(Here’s the 12th post in my continuing series on the Psalms for All Seasons Sunday school class I co-teach with Andrew Friend. Each week we sing psalm settings from Psalms for All Seasons, Lift Up Your Hearts, and other CRC hymnals. Previous posts is the series focused on Psalm 121, Psalm 122, Psalms 2/99, Psalm 72, Psalm 95, Psalm 147, Psalm 112, Psalm 29, Psalm 40, Psalm 23, and Psalm 27. Today (Jan. 26) we looked at Psalm 130.
Since Psalm 130 is one of my favorites, I have enough material for three posts. In this one, I’m going to do my regular work of going through all the Psalm 130 settings we sang in Sunday School today. In a second post, I’ll share my series of Psalm 130 lenten litanies. In a third post, I’m going to discuss using Christian prayers to illuminate psalms using Psalm 130 as an example.)
My favorite section of the Psalms are the songs of ascents (Psalms 120-134), a collection of short pilgrimage songs that touch on the major themes and moods of the entire Psalter. Psalm 130, a highlight of this collection, is an succinct but eloquent expression of despair and trust.
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord;
O Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.
Some of the psalms have vivid images of tribulation (e.g., from David’s military misfortunes) that are hard for me to connect to my own. “Out of the depths” leaves to the listener’s imagination the deep trouble from which the psalmist is calling: Drowning in deep water? Lying broken at the bottom of a chasm? At the bottom of the social hierarchy? In the “depths of sin and sadness”? Perhaps calling out from the depths of grief and anguish? (Eugene Peterson’ paraphrase puts “the depths” in modern idiom as “Help, God—the bottom has fallen out of my life!”)
If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins,
O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
therefore you are feared.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
My soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.
If God was unforgiving, keeping a permanent record of all our sins, the psalmist suggests, we would have no hope because our sins are too many. But we can put our trust in the Lord and put our hope in his word because he forgives us. We can trust even though we have to wait—and wait—because the Lord’s mercy is as sure as the sun rising each morning.
Psalms for All Seasons’ responsorial setting text (from the Evangelical Lutheran Worship) translates the beginning of verse 3 as “If you were to keep watch over sins,” which (a member of the class pointed out) highlights the fact that the psalmist wants to get the Lord’s attention—but not too close attention.
O Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
for with the Lord is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.
In the final verses, the psalmist moves from his own experience in the depths and his trust in the Lord to the whole people of God, who are in the depths of their sins and need put their trust in God to redeem them.
Psalm 130 is one of the seven penitential psalms, probably because of the clear connections than can be made from the psalm to Christian soteriology. It is the first penitential psalm our class has taken up, but we’re planning on looking at the other six (6, 32, 38, 51, 102, and 143) over the next few weeks.
The penitential psalms are traditionally Lenten psalms, and the Revised Common Lectionary includes Psalms 32 (Years A & C), 51 (A, B & C), and 130 (A) during Lent. Psalm 143 is the Easter Vigil psalm all three years. However, Psalms 6, 38 and 102 aren’t in the lectionary at all, which seems like an odd choice. (The Presbyterian Book of Common Worship’s daily lectionary does assign one penitential psalm a day though Lent, except that 91 has replaced 38). Incidentally, all the songs of ascents are in the lectionary except for Psalm 120, 129 and 134.
Psalms for All Seasons includes six hymns based on Psalm 130 plus the responsorial setting “Out of the Depths I Cry to You” (PFAS #130B).
“Out of the Depths I Cry to You on High” (PFAS #130C/LUYH #655/PH87 #256/PH57 #273) is one of 69 hymns to appear with the same tune (SANDON) in all three Psalter Hymnals and Lift Up Your Hearts. The hymn first appeared in the 1912 Psalter as “From Out the Depths I Cry.” The lyrics were altered for the gray Psalter Hymnal.
Out of the depths I cry to you on high;
Lord, hear my call.
Bend down your ear and listen to me sigh,
If you should mark our sins, who then could stand?
But grace and mercy dwell at your right hand.
“Out of the Depths I Cry to You” (PFAS #130A/HFW #10) is the only hymn in PFAS with words and music by Martin Luther. The first and fourth stanzas are derived from the psalm while the second and third develop its themes in Christian language. Here is verse three:
In you alone, O God, we hope,
and not in our own merit.
We rest our fears in your good Word,
and trust your Holy Spirit.
Your promise keeps us strong and sure;
we trust the cross, your signature
inscribed upon our temples.
For those who don’t like Luther’s tune (AUS TIEFER NOT)—like some members of our class—we chose WAS GOTT TUT as an alternate.
“In Deep Despair I Cry to You” (PFAS #130E/SNC #62) has modern lyrics set to MORNING SONG (AKA CONSOLATION/KENTUCKY HARMONY). The tune is the most used in Lift Up Your Hearts (five hymns), often for hymns of anguish [e.g., “Why Stand So Far Away, My God?” (LUYH #648)] and waiting [e.g., “The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns” (LUYH #476/PH87 #615), “Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days” (LUYH #132)].
In deep despair I cry to you—
Lord, hear my voice, my prayer.
If you should mark iniquities,
who would stand guiltless there?
But, Lord, with you forgiveness dwells
and love beyond compare.
“From the Depths of Sin and Sadness” (PFAS #130F) is a modern versification set to a Russian folk melody.
From the depths of sin and sadness,
I have called unto the Lord.
Be not deaf to my poor pleading,
in your mercy, hear my voice.
The final two settings in Psalms for All Seasons are modern hymns with beautiful piano accompaniments. “Out of the Depths I Cry to You” (PFAS #130D) uses a pair a syncopated melodies (for stanzas 1, 2, 4 & 5 and stanzas 3 & 6). A sample is here.
Out of the depths I cry to you.
O Lord please hear my call.
O Lord be merciful to me;
at your throne of grace I fall;
at your throne of grace I fall.
“For You, My God, I Wait” (PFAS #130G) is a hymn with lyrics by Mennonite pastor Adam Tice. The melody by David Ward is my favorite Psalm 130 tune. A sample is here. [Tice also wrote the Psalm 122 setting “Rejoice, Rejoice, Come Sing with Me” (PFAS #122A)]. “For You, My God, I Wait” is a loose paraphrase of the Psalm 130 (and Psalm 131 in stanza 5). Each of the first four stanzas refers to the “sleepless ones” who are waiting.
For you, my God, I wait
with hope born of the Word.
Like sleepless ones who long to dream
I wait and call my Lord.
The ending (stanza 6) circles back to “the depths”:
O God, you are my hope;
I know that you forgive.
Your love redeems me from the depths
so I may rise and live.
PFAS also includes “A Prayer of Hope” (PFAS #130H) based on the psalm which we’ve used as a Lenten confession.
The gray Psalter Hymnal also includes a Psalm 130 versification (in two stanzas), “Out of the Depths I Cry, Lord” (PH87 #130) set to GENEVAN 130. This is one of a number of Psalm hymns in the gray Psalter Hymnal that combined modern lyrics (many apparently written explicitly for the hymnal) and tunes from the appropriate psalms in the 16th Century Genevan Psalter; many weren’t carried forward into Lift Up Your Hearts. (The gray Psalter Hymnal has 38 Genevan tunes; LUYH has 15. PFAS has just 19.)
We didn’t sing the three additional hymns from the blue Psalter Hymnal, but our class member who grew up with the hymnal played them for us and talked about how they were used in her church. She said the most commonly used were “From out the Depths I Cry” (discussed above) and “From the Depths Do I Invoke Thee” (PH57 #274), which has lyrics from the 1912 Psalter and a lovely tune (EVENING PRAYER) more cheerful than any we sang in class. Her church never used “From the Depths of Sadness” (PH57 #272), which is in a minor key. The final setting in the blue Psalter Hymnal is “From the Depths My Prayer Ascendeth” (PH57 #275).