Here’s yet another post in my continuing series on our Psalms for All Seasons Sunday school class. (Previous posts focused on Psalm 121, Psalm 122, Psalms 2/99, and Psalm 72)
This past Sunday (Dec. 15) our Sunday school class took up Psalm 95. The psalm itself has two complementary halves. The first (vv. 1-7) is an extended call to worship.
O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
The second half (8-11) is a sermon to those gathered to worship, warning not to harden our hearts as our ancestors did in the wilderness.
Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your ancestors tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. For forty years I loathed that generation and said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they do not regard my ways.” Therefore in my anger I swore, “They shall not enter my rest.”
Eugene Petersen, in his Praying with the Psalms (1993), makes an interesting connection between the first and second haves:
The opposite of worship is wandering. The alternatives to the “Let us worship and bow down,” in which we give our attention to God’s love and direction, are strife (Meribah) and temptation (Massah), in which we look out for ourselves and snatch what we can in a trackless desert.
Psalms for All Seasons’ selection of Psalm 95 settings is an embarrassment of riches—seven hymns, with both new and familiar tunes, and a responsorial setting—“Oh, That Today You Would Listen to God’s Voice” (PFAS #95E).
Four of the hymns are set to traditional hymn tunes.
“Now with Joyful Exultation” (PFAS #95D/LUYH #512/PH87 #95/PH57 #184) has lyrics from the 1912 Psalter and is one of only 69 hymns to appear in all three Psalter Hymnals (1934, 1957 & 1987) and Lift Up Your Hearts. It is set to BEECHER, which is a familiar tune written for “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” (LUYH pairs that hymn with HYFRYDOL).
Now with joyful exultation let us sing to God our praise; to the Rock of our salvation loud hosannas let us raise.
“Come, Worship God” (PFAS #95G/LUYH #509/SNC #25) is the other traditional hymn that is also found in Lift Up Your Hearts. It is set to O QUANTA QUALIA (“Here from All Nations”).
Come, worship God, who is worthy of honor; enter God’s presence with thanks and a song! You are the rock of your people’s salvation, to whom our jubilant praises belong.
“Come, Let Us Praise the Lord” (PFAS #95A) is set to DARWALL’S 148TH (“Rejoice, the Lord is King”).
Come, let us praise the Lord, with joy our God acclaim, his greatness tell abroad
and bless his saving name. Lift high your songs before his throne to whom alone all praise belongs.
“Come with All Joy to Sing to God” (PFAS #95H), the final traditional hymn, is paired with GERMANY.
Come with all joy to sing to God our saving rock, the living Lord; in glad thanksgiving seek his face with songs of victory and grace.
All these hymns begin with an invitation to praise God, but they differ in how they deal with the second half of the psalm. Two turn the warning at the end of the psalm into a promise. “Come, Worship God” ends with “Peace be to all who remember your goodness, trust in your world, and rejoice in your way,” while “Come, Let Us Praise the Lord” concludes with God’s ways leading “at last, all troubles past, to perfect rest.”
“Come with All Joy to Sing to God” devotes four stanzas to vv. 1-7 and two to vv. 8-11—so getting to the warning requires singing the final verses. “Now with Joyful Exultation,” with lyrics from the 1912 Psalter, spells out the warning in stanza 4:
While he offers peace and pardon let us hear His voice today, lest, if we our hearts should harden, we should perish in the way—lest to us, so unbelieving, he in judgment should declare: “Your, so long my Spirit grieving, never in my rest will share.”
“Come, Let Us Worship and Bow Down” (PFAS #95B/LUYH #510) is Dave Doherty’s short song based on vv 6-7.
“Come Now, and Lift Up Your Hearts” (PFAS #95F) is a song from India written with leader and congregation parts. While we were discussing how to sing it, Andrew kept referring to the “repeats” that the rest of us couldn’t see. It turns out that he has a launch tour version of Psalms for All Seasons that had the song written differently—with repeats but no leader or congregation parts. My spiral bound copy and the copies the church bought had the corrected versions. The launch tour version also has no title for “Miren qué bueno/Oh, Look and Wonder” (PFAS #133D). (Justin Struik, you should check your copy to see if it’s one of these rarities.) Once we all got on the same page (literarily), we did enjoy the song. (Here is a sample of “Come Now, and Lift Up Your Hearts.”)
“Let Not Your Hearts Be Hardened” (PFAS #95I) is the only setting that takes its title from second half of the Psalm and the only one that mentions Meribah and Massah by name. The chorus is:
Let not your hearts be hardened, if today you hear God’s voice, if today you hear God’s voice.
It might be difficult for congregational singing. Naomi thought the setting might work best with three singers who sing together on the chorus and take turns on the stanzas.
The final setting in Psalm for All Seasons is “Come Let Us Sing” (PFAS #95C), which is a chant. We haven’t learned to chant yet (we intend to next semester) so we got off to a rough start, but after we saw the performance note that claimed that “This singing of this four-part chant is surprisingly easy,” we gave it another try and were able to stay together.
We didn’t have time for songs in the Psalter Hymnals. The gray Psalter Hymnal had a second setting that didn’t make it into LUYH despite being to the tune of GENEVAN 95: “Come, Sing for Joy to the Lord God” (PH87 #173). The blue Psalter Hymnal had additional three settings: “O Come Before the Lord” (PH57 #183), “O Come and to Jehovah Sing” (PH57 #185) and “Sing to the Lord, the Rock of Our Salvation” (PH57 #186)