The early Church, from fear to courage: Eastertide B

First, an apology… Year A escaped me

I managed to miss writing about the narrative of the Eastertide Sundays in Year A last year, because we were all shell-shocked by the pandemic and locked down with no music.  I empathised much more with the fearful apostles after the Ascension, so I wrote about that, but we have worked through into calmer waters (even if we still aren’t allowed to sing in many churches), so I’m determined at least to have a look at the Eastertide Sundays events for Year B, and A will have to wait until it comes around again.

Christ leaving tomb
the Resurrection…and what happened next
Eastertide Year C

When I wrote about the story in the Eastertide Sundays for Year C, it was because I was intrigued to see how the focus moved from Jesus as the usual centre of the action at the Gospel reading, to what was happening with the early Church, headless and frightened, in the First Reading. Usually our first readings are from the Old Testament, to give deep historical context, but at Eastertide they are from Acts, the account of the development of the early Church, written by Luke.  Usually the Gospel gives us the main story for the liturgy on any given Sunday, but in the Sundays after Easter, time stands still for the Gospels (or even goes backwards) because we are hearing parts of Jesus’ teaching and talkings from earlier periods of the narrative.  The action (at least from the point of view of Jesus’ story) cannot move on until the Ascension.

Second Sunday of Easter, and Thomas
A tender moment : doubt no longer

The first Sunday after Easter, aka the Second Sunday of Easter, is the story of Thomas, an apostle often unfairly criticised.  I’ve talked about him before, so I won’t go into it again here.  His story and its lesson for us all is so important that all three liturgical years are the same.  After this Sunday, though, the Lectionary Years diverge, but not in the usual way by choosing a Gospel writer and following him (Year A : Matthew, Year B : Mark, Year C : Luke).  Most of the Gospels for Eastertide in all three years are from John; but not all.  They are not chronological; they have been selected.

Overview, Year B Eastertide Readings

The First Reading over Eastertide, for all three years, comes from Acts, because the story is now about the early Church, as I explained when discussing Year C, but different sections of Acts come into focus.  The Second Readings differ considerably; Year C takes them all from Revelation, Year A from Peter’s first letter, and Year B takes all its Second Readings from the first letter of John.  In Year B, the Gospel for the Third Sunday of Easter is the aftermath of the trip to Emmaus (the account of the encounter itself is in Year A), the Fourth Sunday is the Good Shepherd, the Fifth is I am the vine, and the Sixth is what sounds like Jesus’ final charge to the apostles, an envoi of sorts, though in fact it’s from chapter 15 of John’s Gospel rather than later.  As I said discussing Year C, the time in the Gospel readings can go forwards and back over Eastertide, because the linear onward progression has shifted to Acts.  All these B Gospels are from John except Third Sunday, which is from Luke, because he is the only evangelist who gives us the Emmaus story.

Second Sunday of Easter B

The First Reading is from Acts 4, a simple statement of how things were done among the community of believers in the early Church, with everyone sharing and helping each other, and the apostles spreading the word to great effect.  By now, the transformation has taken place; there is a sizeable group of believers, they have become ‘the early Church’, and this is how they are behaving.  All three First Readings (Years A, B and C) have this same message of reassurance, even though they come from different chapters of Acts.  After the tragedy of Holy Week and the surprise and joy of Easter Sunday, here is the pattern for the way ahead being worked out, by a group of converts and believers, just like us.  We stay with the great Easter psalm (117/118), with only minor variations, because the Octave of Easter is like an echo, reverberating the same message.  The Second Reading, from the first letter of St John, gives us the tools to live like the early Church: love, obedience to God, and the Holy Spirit.  The Gospel is Thomas’ encounter with Jesus.

Third Sunday of Easter B : first reading

We start in early Acts, earlier in fact than the previous week, with a speech from Peter, in his new role as leader of the Church.  It sounds in our First Reading as though he is trying to pick a fight, but this is due to slightly awkward editing.   This speech follows the healing of the lame man at the gate called Beautiful, when Peter says ‘Silver and gold have I none, but what I have, I give you’.  The lame man walks and leaps and praises God, now that his legs and feet can support him, and a crowd gathers. 

healing the lame man at the gate called Beautiful

Peter addresses the crowd, ‘Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this?’  and goes on to explain that the healing is nothing to do with Peter and John, but is all the work of (their own) God to glorify his servant Jesus.  He encapsulates the whole story with commendable brevity, and then clarifies that it is not their fault that they killed Jesus because they did not know what they were doing; so now they can repent and turn to God.  Peter turns all the crowd’s assumptions upside-down, he accuses them of a dreadful act, the murder of God’s representative, and then shows them how to clear matters up – all in a few lines.  It is masterly.  Peter has been transformed since Pentecost. He is now a leader, eloquent, confident, convincing, and completely fearless.

…the psalm and second reading

This same confident touch is echoed in the choice of psalm, the simple and beautiful Psalm 4, which reinforces many of Peter’s points : God’s justice, his favour for the ones he loves, God as the source of all happiness and security.  The second reading is again simple and confident, ‘I am writing this to stop you sinning, but if anyone should sin, we have our advocate with the Father’, so again, we have what looks like a condemnation, but again immediately we have the promise of pardon.

…the Gospel : Emmaus, main account in Year A
so he went in to stay with them (Lk 24)

On the corresponding Sunday in Year A, we have the story of Emmaus, where Jesus falls in with two disciples on the road, and they fail to recognise him. He explains to them how his own death (and subsequent entry into glory) was foretold in the scriptures from Moses onwards.  We aren’t given all of Jesus’ words, but it sounds to me as though he also defends the testimony of the women at the tomb, which the apostles had discounted, as he reproaches them for being ‘foolish […] and slow of heart to believe’ (Lk  24.25).  They prevail upon the unknown traveller to stay with them, and they realise who he is when he shares the bread among them at dinnertime.  Then he disappears.

Year B : Emmaus 2.0

This year (B), what we have is the next stage of the story.  To set the scene, because these are verses of Luke’s account which are not included in our Gospel reading, the two minor disciples, only one of whom even gets a name (Cleopas), have come rushing back to the Upper Room in Jerusalem, even though it is already late, and they have been walking all day.   They find the apostles ‘and those who were with them’, which I am taking as those faithful and long-suffering women, and they all exchange their exciting news.   The atmosphere has been transformed.  You can almost hear the buzzing excitement as Cleopas and his friend (his wife?) tell their story, and the others tell them that the Lord ‘has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!’  We never hear anything else about that encounter, but we can hear that the group is beginning to dare to believe that it is all true.

you can even see the fish on the table

Suddenly, in the middle of all the talking, Jesus is there among them, and this is the event that our Gospel reading is centred on.  He lets them have a good look at him, he encourages them to touch and hold him to prove that he is not a ghost.  It is particularly poignant to read these words at a time when we are all still socially distanced.  In a touching, homely detail, he asks them if there is anything around that he can eat, and they give him a bit of left-over grilled fish, which he eats to demonstrate even more clearly that he is really there.  Then he explains again to the bigger group, as he has already done to Cleopas, how everything that happened to him is the fulfilment of the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms.  Jesus’ last paragraph is an even shorter summary of what Peter has already said succinctly in the first reading, even down to the repeating of the word ‘witnesses’, a tightly-woven piece of ring composition.

Fourth Sunday of Easter B  (Good Shepherd Sunday)

This might equally be called Cornerstone Sunday.  The First Reading picks up Peter and John more or less at the same point where we left them the previous week.  Peter, the transformed Peter, has gone on explaining his message forcefully and clearly to the assembled crowd, so the Temple authorities are not happy.  They arrest Peter and John and put them in prison overnight to cool off.

Jesus before the high priest, with Peter downstairs

Our reading is what Peter says the next day, in the presence of Annas and Caiaphas, so really in the lions’ den here: these are the people at least partly responsible for the Crucifixion, which Peter knows because he was there in the high priest’s courtyard (Lk 22).  He repeats the same message even more clearly, he is filled with the Holy Spirit, and sounds completely ‘confident and unafraid’, as the Canticle in Isaiah 12 says.  He quotes the line about the stone rejected by the builders out of Psalm 117/118, the psalm which comes back and back again through the Easter season for us, but also seriously familiar to Annas and Caiaphas, although they would totally reject Peter’s interpretation of it.  Our reading stops there, but if you carry on reading, the authorities are completely flummoxed by Peter and John’s clarity and confidence and cannot work out what to do with them, so they let them go.

What psalm could we sing after this except Psalm 117/118 (yet again)?  It’s not exactly the same version that we sing on Easter Sunday, because this is quite a long psalm and we sing several different selections of verses, put together in different formats, so I have different tunes to fit.  For some reason this version has v.21 duplicated and used a second time (and out of sequence) in the last stanza, making that stanza seven lines rather than the usual six.  I suspect there’s a mistake there, but it’s of long standing and in every anglophone Lectionary, so I’ve just written an extra bit of tune for it.  The Response is the crucial line repeated, which feels exactly right.

The second reading is another beautiful extract from John’s first letter about our being God’s children.  John’s letter is particularly significant for the early Church, as he is always completely inclusive.  Anyone can be God’s child; anyone can do God’s will.  The Gospel, marking chronological time again, is away back in John 10, where Jesus calls himself the good shepherd and lays claim to all the sheep, including those ‘not of this fold’, again expanding the potential reach of the Church.

Fifth Sunday of Easter B : I am the vine

We have leapt forward in Acts for our First Reading this week, to chapter 9, and our central character is suddenly Saul.  All sorts of things have been happening to the early Church.  Peter and the apostles have even been put back into prison, but this time an angel came to fetch them out.  They have now been summoned in front of the authorities repeatedly, and Peter’s message remains the same, becoming simpler and clearer at each iteration.  Their numbers are increasing, they have had to rope in some new men to help with practical charity, Stephen has been appointed deacon, called upon to testify and then martyred.  The community is being persecuted by various people including one Saul.  There have been healings, miracles, conversions and all sorts of events. 

Conversion of St Paul
Fierce encounter of the third kind

At the beginning of chapter 9 of Acts, Saul is struck down on the way to Damascus in an encounter with the Lord.  We don’t get any of these events in our reading.  We have Saul, newly arrived back in Jerusalem, and trying to join the disciples who are understandably very suspicious.  Saul has escaped from Damascus in a basket (there are times when Acts reminds you of Dumas, or The Wind in the Willows), and luckily he has Barnabas to speak for him.  He preaches fearlessly and convincingly, and Jerusalem too becomes too hot to hold him.

What psalm after this?  We have Psalm 21/22, which is a great choice, because it is so appropriate for Saul and because he would have known it so well, as a Pharisee and Talmud scholar.  This psalm beautifully takes the words of a virtuous and observant Jew and repurposes them into a call for the whole world to come and join in the worship of Jesus the Messiah.  The ‘great assembly’ in the synagogue which Saul knew so well flowers out into ‘all families of the nations’.

The second reading is John on active love and not being afraid in God’s presence.  The Gospel hops forward to chapter 15 of John and Jesus’ extended comparison of himself with the vine.  Last week, we were sheep;  this week we are branches, part of a growing whole, and bearers of fruit (we hope).

Sixth Sunday of Easter B : all are welcome

Saul has been sent off to Tarsus, to help with the Church there, so the focus of Acts returns to Peter for a while.  He too is travelling, first to Lydda, where he heals a paralysed man called Aeneas, and then to Joppa, where he raises Tabitha (actually labelled as a ‘disciple’) from the dead.  Then he goes on to Caesarea, because he has been sent for by Cornelius.  Cornelius is a centurion of the Roman army, with all that implies about allegiance and position, but he is also a man of virtue who is earnestly trying to do the right thing.  An angel has told him to send for Peter, and even gives him the address where to find him.  Cornelius is not short of servants or soldiers, so he puts a little group together and sends them off to Joppa.

Peter’s vision on the rooftop

As they approach the city, Peter is praying on a rooftop before a meal, when he has a vision in which God lowers a great sheet or tablecloth full of animals, birds and reptiles and tells him that nothing can be unclean if God has cleansed it.  This happens three times, like watching a nature video repeatedly.  He is baffled as to the meaning of this vision, but then the Holy Spirit tells him to go downstairs to see the three men at the gate who are looking for him.  He is to go with them ‘without hesitation’, even though some of them are Roman soldiers.  Peter goes downstairs, welcomes Cornelius’ men, hears why they want him and invites them in for supper and to stay the night; the next morning they all set off back to Caesarea.  It is easy to miss how amazing these events are, how upside-down all this would appear to someone on the outside of the transformation that the early Church has undergone with the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Cornelius kneeling before Peter

When he meets Cornelius, they explain to each other how they have each been directed towards the other.  Peter has come with some of his people from Joppa, and Cornelius’ whole household is there, so this is a sizeable group of people.  Cornelius invites Peter to address them all.  All this has happened before our first reading starts. We begin with the meeting between the two men, and what happens next, Peter’s words to those assembled.  What is omitted here (see the list of verses at the beginning) is another of Peter’s summaries of Jesus’ life and death, and the Resurrection.  This is in fact the first reading of the Mass on Easter Sunday.   We usually repeat the Baptismal promises after the Gospel on Easter Sunday, but we don’t miss the Creed because Peter has already said it for us.  This whole section is not in our current reading because the importance of the encounter between Peter and Cornelius is Peter’s new understanding that the Gentiles are to be converted as freely as the Jews, and that God sends his Spirit as freely to the one as to the other.

Trinity - Jesus juggling
King of all the ends of the earth, and juggling as well
Psalm 97/98 : wider still and wider

The following psalm (97/98) is a victory psalm, stressing the international aspect of salvation.  Nothing has been taken away from Israel, but the pagans have been added (second stanza).  Even the ends of the earth have seen salvation, like the corners of the great sheet in Peter’s vision.  The second reading is another of John’s reflections on the all-encompassing nature of God’s love, and the Gospel is from John 15, following directly from the previous week.  These readings from John are part of the Last Discourse given to the apostles before they all set out for the Mount of Olives where the Passion will be set in train by Judas’ kiss.  Jesus repeats his command to love one another, trying to make this the message that they will all understand and remember even when he has gone.  It is the nearest thing the early Church has to a mission statement.

It is allowed in the rubric to swap the second reading and Gospel for the seventh Sunday  in place of sixth Sunday, if the Ascension Mass takes the place of the seventh Sunday, but the message remains the same, just coming slightly later in the text.

Onward and upward
Ascension
I particularly like the feet and the footprints in this one

The next event after this is the Ascension, whether you celebrate it on the traditional Thursday or the following Sunday; but we have come a long way in these six weeks, and we now know that the group of disciples will find a way to cope after Jesus’ departure.  The early Church is on its way.  There is another of those screeching changes of gear and direction at the beginning of the readings for the Ascension, because we go back (all three Liturgical Years the same) to the very beginning of Acts, with the apostles waiting in the Upper Room.  Jesus tells them to stay there and wait for the Holy Spirit, and after his Ascension, this is precisely what they do.

Penetecost dove
the arrival of the Holy Spirit

But now we already know, because of the Eastertide readings, that after Pentecost, amazing things will happen, and the disciples will find a way to carry the story forward even without Jesus.  The Eastertide readings are like an interlude.  Like the apostles, we are waiting for the next event to happen (first the Ascension, and then Pentecost), but it’s not like the waiting of Lent or the Sundays of Ordinary Time.  We are celebrating the fact of the Resurrection over these six weeks.  This joy is too much for one Sunday, and that’s why we keep on using the double alleluias at the end of Mass as part of the dismissal.  But we need a story to keep us interested from week to week, so we find out how Jesus’ followers started to carry out the charge he gave them. The early Church is a complicated and messy phenomenon. There are several protagonists and there are several different cities where it is all happening.  This is exciting; these are signs of success.  It is difficult to take it all in, especially in bite-sized Sunday chunks; but the Sundays of Eastertide give us a chance to see how the mustard seed of faith takes root and grows into the great tree so that all the birds can come and nest in it.  Quite a story.

Yggdrasil tree
Celtic roots, wider outreach

©Kate Keefe and Music for Mass 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kate Keefe and Music for Mass, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

History and story psalms, too long for liturgy?

 
A long history of and in the Psalter

The Book of Psalms includes lots of different genres : laments, victory songs, blessings, curses, celebrations, warnings, history and stories, and that list is not exhaustive. The psalms themselves can vary wildly in length, from a couple of verses up to several pages of poetry, and it’s only a nod to poetic form and their purpose of being sung or recited that keeps them within bounds.  Using them liturgically means concern about form and size as well as message.

Man playing bells
ringing out the psalms

History psalms tend to be longer than many of the others, because the whole point is to show God’s regular intervention in Israel’s past, and how it worked out. If you reduce one of the history psalms to a Responsorial, or rather take a self-contained section out of it, you can be left with a simple but out-of-context account which makes better sense if you know the story already. We get this from time to time in the extracts prescribed for Sunday psalms, but it seems to happen more often among the weekday psalms, because they are chosen from a wider selection of psalms.



Never more than five stanzas for a Sunday

This can collide with the requirements of the Responsorial Psalm as set for us to sing on Sundays, which can’t be too long. We usually have three or four stanzas, occasionally five, but never more. In the traditions of different churches (Anglican, Orthodox, Presbyterian, for example), the rules are different, and they sing their way through the complete Psalter, every psalm, with all its verses. So does the (Catholic) Divine Office, but if you are a lay Catholic who goes mainly only to Sunday Masses, you will never get to sing all the psalms, or even all the verses of the psalms that we do sing. We sing extracts, meant to be pointed and relevant responses to the First Reading. 

What are we missing?

So the context inside the psalm could be relevant, and you might not know; or two Responsorial Psalms might be parts of the same psalm in the Psalter; or something that seems slightly strange might make perfect sense.  It’s often worth checking how the verses of one particular Responsorial Psalm are sited inside the whole psalm.  This is true especially when the stanzas chosen have been taken from various parts of the whole psalm, as it can change the thrust of the psalm completely.

Mostly checking the rest of the psalm is quite comforting, especially if the psalm is mournful, because it is rare to find a psalm that is unrelievedly gloomy (the great exception being Psalm 88/89), but there are also plenty of occasions where you discover that less edifying bits of the psalm have been quietly omitted.  The whole of human life genuinely is here, in the Book of Psalms, the bad bits as well as the good.  The Church often mercifully draws a veil over what you might call the unchristian bits of the psalms (curses etc.), but it does not remove them from the Book of Psalms, which is quite right.  The psalmists were human beings just like us, and not always edifying (even this can be comforting).

History psalms
Adam and Eve with serpent
all the legs still there (for now)

One of the functions of some of the psalms is to provide a summary of salvation history.  These psalms can be long, but they must have been a good way to give children a timeline of events.  When we were small, our parents sang in the car when we were travelling, and I remember one song in particular which retold Bible stories in a jokey way.  I can remember only a few of the verses, and I imagine my parents had forgotten several more, but it’s handy as a aide-mémoire.  Adam was the first man, and he lived all alone/ Till Eve was manufactured out of Adam’s collarbone/ One day in the Garden they were feeling rather bare/ So Adam put a figleaf on and Eve let down her hair. […]

Wicked Queen Jezebel first defenestrated and then trampled, 2 Kings 9

Jehu had a chariot of 90 horse-power/ He drove it round Jerusalem at 90 miles an hour/ Suddenly on pulling up, he heard an awful squeal /And found little bits of Jezebel a-sticking to the wheel.  […] Jonah was a landlubber who thought he’d like to sail/ so he booked an ocean passage on a trans-Atlantic whale/ sitting there inside for days, he felt a bit depressed/ so he simply pressed a button and the whale did the rest.[…]  David was a general, Uriah was his sub/ David saw Uriah’s wife undressing for a tub/ David sent Uriah to a front line trench/ Uriah stopped a hand grenade and David got the wench.  Unfortunately I can’t remember any more verses, but it’s a very common metre, so other bits of doggerel fit the tune, like the four liner about David and Solomon which ends  King Solomon wrote the Proverbs and David wrote the Psalms. Useful solid information, easily digested.

Jonah looking surprisingly calm
History psalms always have a message
penitential psalm illumination
David writing the psalms after sinning

Most of the psalms are a direct address to God by the psalmist, but history psalms imply a third person as listener, either children or just ‘people’, to be informed and instructed.  In the Jewish Bible tradition, I can’t imagine that these psalms wouldn’t have been used as a teaching aid, like the rhyming lists of kings and queens which British children used to memorise.  Some of the psalms address the audience directly (Come, children, and hear me, Ps 33/34; Come and hear, all who fear God, I will tell what he did, Ps 65/66).  Ps 77/78 is overtly a teaching psalm : Give heed, my people, to my teaching; […] I will open my mouth in a parable/ and reveal hidden lessons of the past.   Each generation must pass the knowledge on to the next so that they will obey God and never fall back into unfaithfulness (vv5ff). 

Stories and histories

Some psalms recount a potted version of national history, some are just stories, with a bigger moral and a smaller historical base, as in Psalm 106/107, where there are four stories, each with the same pattern. 

Seascape at night, storm
Mariners in peril

Each shows people in distress, and then God rescues them. First we have starving wanderers in the desert, then wretched prisoners, then some who ‘were sick on account of their sins’, and the last, slightly extended group is mariners in a storm at sea, where the psalmist goes into more detail (drawn from personal experience, maybe).  Each section ends with a similar stanza of praise, with the words tweaked to make them more pointed in each case, but you can imagine the audience joining in.  Other story psalms include Ps 17/18 (the rescue of a just man), and Ps 79/80 (the story of a vine and what happened to it). Ps 113/114 is an in-between case: it looks like history, but it’s only one episode; it starts to tell a story and then it gets sidetracked by the idols, but something strange has happened to the text here, and I don’t think we have it in the state in which the author wrote it.

Longer historical psalms

The main longer historical psalms are Ps 67/68, Ps 77/78, Ps 104/105,  and Ps 105/106, but there are also shorter ones (e.g. Ps 98/99), where only a short part of salvation history is covered.  In Ps 134/135 and Ps 135/136, the references are brief and partly because of the magic of names (as any child who has ever chanted Og, the king of Bashan could tell you, and I wrote about this to discuss Melchisedek).  There is a similar name list of enemies at Ps 82/83, indeed, two of them : one of current enemies, and one, more reassuring, or the enemies that God has already dealt with.  There is a geographical list in Psalm 86/87, and another in Ps 107/108.  People need to know their own history, and they need to know their own relevant local geography.  Then the names act almost as shorthand to evoke a common understanding.  Every nation does this.  Roncevalles; Waterloo; Culloden; Gettysburg.  Massah; Meribah; Mount Sion.

The story of Joseph, told twice
no need to be jealous, with these gorgeous garments

When one of the history psalms is used as a Responsorial, it can be done very simply by extracting a self-contained section, with no editing.  Friday of the second week of Lent uses a small piece (vv. 16-21) of Psalm 104/105 to offer a neat precis of the story of Joseph after a longer but less complete narrative in the first reading, which fills in all the beginning of the story but stops at the point where Joseph is carried off to Egypt as a slave.  The Psalm finishes the story.  In three short stanzas, we discover that things get even worse for Joseph, but then the king releases and honours him.  It would be difficult to give this information any more quickly and efficiently.  There is not a single adjective; the narration is almost bald, almost like something from Mr Gradgrind, nothing but facts, not lyrical poetry by any calculation.  The same thing happens on the Thursday of the fourth week of Lent, where the first reading tells the story of Moses begging God to be merciful after the Israelites in the desert have made themselves a golden calf to worship.  This is Psalm 105/106, and again what we have is three tight little stanzas lifted straight out(vv. 19-23), which tell the story with great economy.

history of Joseph
Joseph again, but more modern

This means you need a simple tune.  It’s similar to the section of Psalm 49/50, where God recites all his possessions, which always makes me think of The farmer’s in his den,  a children’s song.   God just keeps on listing all his possessions to show that he doesn’t need lip-service from anyone.  When I first set it, I gave it a sort of folk song or nursery rhyme feel, because it seemed appropriate, but the same psalm has come up two or three times recently, and the mood is darkening, as we move away from ‘I own all the beasts of the forests,[…]all the birds in the sky’ towards ‘you who sit and malign your brother’, moving from externals to internals.  I may have to write a new tune.  I’d already done one less jaunty, when the Response changed to a more dignified ‘Offer to God a sacrifice of praise’, but I may need to go darker.

How to set (and sing) the history Responsorials

With the two history psalms I’m looking at, I need the tune to be simple but workmanlike.  They are not lyrical psalms, just plain chunks of information, where the facts of the story are what matter, not the mood.  I’m not trying to emphasize any aspect, just to encourage people to join in and think about the story as it is told.  There isn’t time to dwell on Joseph’s experience, becaue the story moves on too quickly.  The only thing to do is to keep it neat and simple, let the words be clear, and set the mood in the Response so that the congregation can pray with it as the answer to the stanzas.  After all, the music needs to follow the style of the words; and if this particular psalmist, in a poetic tradition of development and parallelism, has chosen to give a terse account, I don’t want to embroider it just for the sake of it.

A way to bring people together

I started by saying there are all sorts of psalms, very consciously composed to use their form to enhance the words : lyrical laments, stirring war songs, jubilant repetitious victory songs and others.  But the history psalms are different.  They are accounts of the salient points of Israel’s history, the bits that need to be passed on to the next generation and the next.  They repeat the same events, over and over again, because these are the building blocks of Israel’s identity.  Like my jokey Bible song, these are the stories that every Jewish child (and now any other religion of the Book) needs to have absorbed, to know who they are, to know their own context.  They also give a rock solid base for trusting in the Lord to protect and save us, as he has always done…..and here are the examples.

Law in 2 scrolls
a beloved narrative

©Kate Keefe and Music for Mass 2021.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kate Keefe and Music for Mass, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.