29 June 2022

Praying with the Psalms in Ordinary Time:
29 June 2022 (Psalm 126)

‘Then was our mouth filled with laughter and our tongue with songs of joy’ (Psalm 126: 2) … a sign in a café in Rathkeale, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

In the Calendar of the Church, today commemorates Saint Peter and Saint Paul Apostles. This time of the year is known in Anglican tradition as Petertide, one of the two traditional periods for the ordination of new priests and deacons – the other being Michaelmas, around 29 September.

The Cambridge poet-priest Malcolm Guite says on his blog that Saint Peter’s Day and this season is appropriate for ordinations because Saint Peter is ‘the disciple who, for all his many mistakes, knew how to recover and hold on, who, for all his waverings was called by Jesus “the rock,” who learned the threefold lesson that every betrayal can ultimately be restored by love.’

Before today begins, I am taking some time this morning to continue my reflections drawing on the Psalms.

In my blog, I am reflecting each morning in this Prayer Diary in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;

2, reading the psalm or psalms;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Psalm 126:

Psalm 126 is the seventh in a series of 15 short psalms (Psalm 120-134) known as the ‘Songs of Ascents.’ These psalms begin with the Hebrew words שיר המעלות‎ (Shir Hama’a lot). In the slightly different numbering system in the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, this is counted as Psalm 125. It is sometimes known by its opening words in Latin, In convertendo Dominus.

Many scholars say these psalms were sung by worshippers as they ascended the road to Jerusalem to attend the three pilgrim festivals. Others say they were sung by the Levite singers as they ascended the 15 steps to minister at the Temple in Jerusalem.

The Mishnah notes the correspondence between the 15 songs and the 15 steps between the men’s court and the women’s courtyards in the Temple. A Talmudic legend says King David composed or sang the 15 songs to calm the rising waters at the foundation of the Temple.

One view says the Levites first sang the Songs of Ascent at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple during the night of 15 Tishri 959 BCE. Another study suggests they were composed for a celebration after Nehemiah’s rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem in 445 BCE. Others suggest they may originally have been songs sung by the exiles returning from Babylon, ascending to Jerusalem or individual poems later collected together and given the title linking them to pilgrimage after the Babylonian captivity.

These psalms are cheerful and hopeful, and they place an emphasis on Zion. They were suited for being sung because of their poetic style and the sentiments they express. They are brief, almost like epigrams, and they are marked by the use of a keyword or repeated phrase that serves as a rung on which the poem ascends to its final theme.

Jewish scholarship pairs Psalm 126 with Psalm 137, with Psalm 137 commemorating the beginning of the Babylonian exile, and Psalm 126 describing the end of that exile.

The grammatical structure of the psalm, however, suggests that it is talking both about a past redemption (from Babylonian captivity, in verse 1) and a future redemption (the permanent return of the exiles at the end of days, in verse 4).

Alternately, modern Jewish commentators suggest that the second half of the psalm refers to the redemption of the land of Israel from agricultural drought.

Psalm 126 is a short psalm of seven verses. The Psalm is a liturgical song for use in public worship.

When the people first returned from exile in Babylon, they hardly believed their good fortune, and they were ‘like those who dream.’ So great was their success that other nations recognised God’s mighty works on their behalf, and the people rejoiced.

But, after the initial euphoria, they realise that ordinary, daily life is difficult. They ask God to restore our fortunes, and that the land be refreshed and be made fruitful with the waters of free-flowing rivers.

They may be sorrowful as they sow, but they still hope to gather the harvest in joyfulness, as God once more acts on our behalf.

All creation gives praise to God, and good times and bad times should both remind us not just of each season, but of the needs of others:

Those who sowed with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
Those who went out weeping, carrying the seed,
will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves
(Psalm 126: 6).

‘Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed, will come back with shouts of joy, bearing their sheaves with them ’ (Psalm 126: 7) … harvest themes in windows by Johnny Murphy and Reiltín Murphy (1982) in the Bishop O’Brien Memorial Chapel in Saint Saviour’s Dominican Church, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Psalm 126 (NRSVA):

A Song of Ascents.

1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
‘The Lord has done great things for them.’
3 The Lord has done great things for us,
and we rejoiced.

4 Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the watercourses in the Negeb.
5 May those who sow in tears
reap with shouts of joy.
6 Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves.

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Ethics and Leadership.’ It was introduced on Sunday by Andy Flannagan, Executive Director of Christians in Politics.

Wednesday 29 June 2022 (Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Apostles):

The USPG Prayer invites us to pray today in these words:

Lord, give us the courage to stand up for what is right. As the Church, may we let our voices be heard on political issues which affect us all.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Saint Peter and Saint Paul in a pair of stained glass windows in Saint John’s Church, Wall, near Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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