Music Notes | Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Eric Mellenbruch
Associate Director of Music
and Organist

Last week our two hymns were Psalm-paraphrases by Isaac Watts (‘O God, our help in ages past’ [680]) and Henry Francis Lyte (‘Praise, my soul, the King of heaven’ [410]). As it happens, this week we sing two more metrical Psalms – by the very same two authors.

‘From all that dwell below the skies’ [380] is one of Watts’s versions of Psalm 117. (To this brief text – based upon the shortest of Psalms – is appended Thomas Ken’s famous doxological stanza that properly belongs to ‘Awake, my soul, and with the sun’ [11] and ‘All praise to thee, my God, this night’ [43].) The title of the collection in which it was first published in 1719, Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament and Applied to the Christian State and Worship, makes clear Watts’s agenda: to make the Psalms more explicitly suited for Christian use, a goal which led him beyond strict paraphrases to more freely composed texts. This hymn is sung to a tune originally associated with a different metrical Psalm, ‘All people that on earth do dwell’ [377/8], a version of Psalm 100 (hence the tune’s name, ‘Old 100th’). Our two organ voluntaries are based upon this tune, including a piece that is one of only a handful of organ works by the greatest English Baroque composer, Henry Purcell.

‘God of mercy, God of grace’ [538] is (part of) Lyte’s version of Psalm 67, the Psalm appointed for this Sunday. It was published in 1834 in Lyte’s The Spirit of the Psalms, a collection of over 280 psalm-paraphrases. Though the Hymnal printed it with a new tune, we sing it to the more familiar tune ‘Ratisbon’, which reinforces the theme of light in this text by its long-standing association with another hymn with similar imagery: Wesley’s ‘Christ, whose glory fills the skies’ [7].

Both of these texts have been chosen this week because their calls for all peoples and nations to praise the Lord echo the expansion of the covenant or people of God beyond the ethnos of Israel that is the theme of the Gospel portion and the passage from Isaiah assigned to accompany it. This is not the place to analyze Our Lord’s challenging initial response to the Canaanite woman, but in this case his healing power is in the end granted to this non-Jewish woman from a region that is now in Lebanon. Peter’s vision and Paul’s entire missionary career later confirm and pursue the vision, found in Isaiah and other prophetic books (including the Psalms), that ‘foreigners who join themselves to the Lord’ will be brought into Zion, that ‘[God’s] house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples’, that God, ‘who gathers the outcasts of Israel…will gather others to them besides those already gathered.’

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