25 June 2022

Praying with the Psalms in Ordinary Time:
25 June 2022 (Psalm 122)

I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go up to the house of the Lord’ (Psalm 122: 1) … the chapter and choir stalls in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

In the Calendar of the Church, we are in Ordinary Time. This morning I am too recalling that I was ordained deacon 22 years ago by Archbishop Walton Empey in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, on 25 June 2000.

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 122:

Psalm 122 is the third 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 121. It is sometimes known by its Latin opening words, Laetatus sum.

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.

Psalm 122 continues the themes of pilgrimage and peace. This is a song sung by pilgrims on the way to Jerusalem. We are invited to go up to ‘the house of the Lord,’ to Jerusalem, and ‘to give thanks to the name of the Lord.’

The Hebrew original of this psalm is shot through with alliterations on the sh sound – as in sha’alu shalom Yerushalayim yishlayu – echoing the sound of the second half of the sound of the name Jerusalem, shalayim, related to shalom, peace. The literary style of this psalm mirrors its content, so that the gentle, soothing sounds evoke Jerusalem at peace.

The author of Psalm 122 is ‘glad when they said to me, Let us go to the house of the Lord.’ He has a vision not of Jerusalem as it was at the time, but of the heavenly city where God dwells and where all people dwell in unity.

His response to this vision is to pray for the peace of the heavenly city and for all who live within its walls, for his family, and for the house of God.

The psalmist prays to God for peace and prosperity for ‘my relatives and friends’ and for those who love God.

This psalm is well-known because of Sir Hubert Parry’s anthem, ‘I was glad,’ a well-loved Anglican anthem often associated in England with coronations. Parry wrote his setting in 1902 using the text of Psalm 122 in the Psalter of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer:

I was glad when they said unto me:
We will go into the house of the Lord.
Our feet shall stand in thy gates:
O Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is built as a city:
that is at unity in itself.
For thither the tribes go up, even the tribes of the Lord:
to testify unto Israel, to give thanks unto the Name of the Lord.
For there is the seat of judgement:
even the seat of the house of David.
O pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
they shall prosper that love thee.
Peace be within thy walls:
and plenteousness within thy palaces.
For my brethren and companions’ sakes:
I will wish thee prosperity.
Yea, because of the house of the Lord our God:
I will seek to do thee good.

Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (1848-1918) is best known for his settings for ‘I was glad’ and for William Blake’s ‘Jerusalem,’ and for his hymn tune ‘Repton’ used for the hymn ‘Dear Lord and Father of Mankind.’ His orchestral works include five symphonies and a set of Symphonic Variations.

Parry was a professor of composition and musical history at the Royal College of Music and Professor of Music at the University of Oxford (1900-1908). His contemporary, Charles Villiers Stanford, counted him as the finest English composer since Henry Purcell. Edward Elgar learned much of his craft from Parry’s articles in Grove’s Dictionary, and Parry’s students included Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst, Frank Bridge and John Ireland.

Herbert Howells (1892-1983) also composed an anthem drawing on words in Psalm 122: 6-7:

O pray for the peace of Jerusalem, they shall prosper that love thee.
Peace be within thy walls, and plenteousness within thy palaces.

‘O pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May they prosper who love you’ (Psalm 122: 6) … the Holocaust Memorial in the centre of Bratislava on the site of the former Neolog Synagogue (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 122 (NRSVA):

A Song of Ascents. Of David.

1 I was glad when they said to me,
‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’
2 Our feet are standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem.

3 Jerusalem – built as a city
that is bound firmly together.
4 To it the tribes go up,
the tribes of the Lord,
as was decreed for Israel,
to give thanks to the name of the Lord.
5 For there the thrones for judgement were set up,
the thrones of the house of David.

6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
‘May they prosper who love you.
7 Peace be within your walls,
and security within your towers.’
8 For the sake of my relatives and friends
I will say, ‘Peace be within you.’
9 For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your good.

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) has been the Swarupantor programme in the Church of Bangladesh. This theme was introduced on Sunday.

Saturday 25 June 2022:

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

We give thanks for the Word of God. May we set aside time to study and reflect on the Bible each and every day.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

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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