06 July 2022

Praying with the Psalms in Ordinary Time:
6 July 2022 (Psalm 133)

‘It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down upon the beard, Even on Aaron’s beard’ (Psalm 133: 2-3) … Moses and Aaron in a window in Saint Columba’s Church, Drumcliffe, Ennis Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

In the Calendar of the Church, we are in Ordinary Time, and today (6 July 2022) in the calendar of Common Worship in the Church of England recalls Thomas More, Scholar, and John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, Reformation Martyrs, 1535.

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 133:

Psalm 133 is the fourteenth 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 132.

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 133 is one of the shortest chapters in the Book of Psalms, being one of three psalms with three verses, the others being Psalm 131 and Psalm 134. The shortest psalm is Psalm 117, with two verses.

This psalm is often known by its Latin title, Ecce Quam Bonum. It has many settings by composers from William Byrd to Leonard Bernstein, who uses verse 1 to conclude the text in Hebrew of the final movement of his Chichester Psalms, an extended work for choir and orchestra that begins with the complete text of Psalm 131.

Psalm 133 is a short poem on the blessing of harmony between brothers – possibly a reference to the divisions between the two kingdoms, Israel in the north and Judah in the south, with hope for their reunification.

We can imagine this psalm being sung by pilgrims as they came together on the journey up to Jerusalem or made their way up the steps of the Temple. It speaks of brotherly love among the people of God, exemplified in the brotherly love of Moses and Aaron.

The pilgrims came together from many tribes, with many tribal differences. But when they come together to worship God, verse 2 reminds them, it is like the anointing of the first high priest, Aaron, by his brother Moses. At that consecration, the high priest’s hair and clothes were saturated with oil (see Exodus 29: 7), signifying his total consecration to God and the abundance and generosity of God’s blessings.

Mount Hermon in the north was the highest mountain in the northern kingdom, Israel. It is blessed with copious rain, ‘the dew of Hermon’ (verse 3). If Jerusalem or Mount Zion, the sacred mountain in the southern kingdom, Judah, received the same abundance of rain, it would be a true blessing. God’s blessings are the inexhaustible source of life, and are for ever.

‘It is like the precious oil on the head’ (Psalm 133: 2) … olive oil on shelves in a shop in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 133 (NRSVA):

A Song of Ascents.

1 How very good and pleasant it is
when kindred live together in unity!
2 It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down upon the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down over the collar of his robes.
3 It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion.
For there the Lord ordained his blessing,
life for evermore.

Today’s Prayer:

The theme in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) this week is ‘Tackling Poverty.’ It was introduced on Sunday by Niall Cooper, Director at Church Action on Poverty.

Wednesday 6 July 2022:

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

Lord, please help us to be bold and speak truth to those in power about the hardships of living in poverty.

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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