I rejoiced when I heard them say

Liturgical procession, Kiev, Ukraine.
Creative Commons / Public domain

Today’s hymn from Sing Praise is a setting of Psalm 122 (121 in the Catholic numbering) by Bernadette Farrell, “I rejoiced when I heard them say”.  What did they say? “Let us go to the house of our God”.  This text, an obvious choice for a church dedication, religious procession or other celebration, has been set by various composers as a choir anthem, but Farrell’s version is a metrical setting of the psalm, presumably intended for congregational singing.  The five verses are a close rendering of original (at least, very similar to other prose translations) with (as John will no doubt point out) no attempt at rhyming.

The chorus is not taken from the psalm but takes the phrase “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem” in verse 6 of the psalm (rendered more inclusively in verse 4 of the hymns as “For the peace of all nations, pray”) and uses the Hebrew word ‘shalom’ for ‘peace’, so we get “Shalom, shalom, the peace of God be here. Shalom, shalom, God’s justice be ever near”.  Justice is one of Bernadette Farrell’s recurring themes.

The hymn would therefore be suitable, not only for a festival, but also for any act of worship where God’s peace and justice are a focus.

Make way, make way

Today’s offering from Sing Praise is another one that’s familiar to me, Graham Kendrick’s “Make way, Make way”.  It comes from a suite of worship songs called “Make Way for the Cross”, described as “a celebration and a proclamation of the heart of the Gospel, designed to be used as an outdoor or indoor event”.  Several of the other songs from that suite have also remained popular, such as “Come and see the King of Love” and “Let the flame burn brighter”. Taken as a whole, they cover the story of Holy Week, but this one can stand alone as a processional song for Palm Sunday, a joyful celebration of Jesus coming into Jerusalem as the Messiah, before the leaders turned the crowd against him.

In the first verse we are encouraged to “fling wide the gates and welcome him”, not into Jerusalem, but in to our lives. It’s widely understood in evangelism that no amount of preaching and teaching will bring someone to Jesus until they make that decision to open their heart to him.

The second verse is what is sometimes called the ‘Nazareth manifesto’ in which Jesus explained at the start of his public ministry the signs that he would do to show who he was – heal broken hearts, set prisoners free, make the deaf hear, the lame walk and the blind see.  These signs he did in fact perform, both physically and also spiritually as he set people free not only from actual diseases and disabilities but also from various forms of religious oppression, discrimination and persecution, as explained in the third verse – “those who mourn with heavy hearts, who weep and sigh, with laughter, joy and royal crown he’ll beautify”.

The last verse is again a call to a personal response: “We call you now to worship him as Lord of all, to have no other gods but him – their thrones must fall”. Again, this should be understood in the context for which the song was written, an outdoor procession or service as an act of public witness intended to make onlookers think again of the relevance of the life and death of Jesus to their own life.