Today’s hymn from Sing Praise is “Hear me, O Lord, in my distress”, a setting by David Preston of Psalm 143. As I noted yesterday, the Psalms, especially those of lament, feature prominently in Lent.
Unlike many of the psalms that start in complaint and end in praise, this one has a different arc. Certainly it starts in desperation (“Hear me in my distress, give ear to my despairing plea!”) and also asks God not to judge the one who prays (v.2, “yet judge me not, for in your sight no living soul is counted just”). Verses 3 and 4 are marked as optional, but it’s only in verse 4 that there is a sign of hope as the singer recalls good times past (“Days long vanished I review, I see the orders of your hands”) which would seem to make that a verse not to be omitted, as a pivotal point. After that, in v.5 the singer calls again on God to answer without delay and asks “let this day bring word of your unfailing grace”.
But that unfailing grace lies in the future, not the present, for in the last two verses it’s back to the cry to be saved from one’s pursuers, for one’s life to be preserved and set free from oppression. There are other psalms where the singer seems to end by thanking God for deliverance already granted, but not on this occasion. That’s how life is: faith in God may bring relief from a sense of fear and hopelessness, but to be honest there’s no guarantee of that relief coming automatically or immediately. Faith is about knowing there is a bigger story, a higher reality, an eventual triumph of good over evil, rather than every small battle in life going ‘our way’.
The musical setting is Vaughan-Williams’ “This is the truth sent from above”. The tune was familiar to me, therefore easy to pick up. The G minor setting suitably reflects the plaintive words of the hymn, although the final chord of each verse sounds more positive note that doesn’t really find an echo in the words. No doubt John can comment on that.