On Singing Psalms
Did you know the Psalms are actually songs? Of course you did. Anyone who's spent any time at all in Sunday School knows that. But have you ever really stopped to think about what that means? I've had that piece of information stored in my cranium for decades, but never really gave it much thought. I still tend to think of the Psalms as the poems that I was assigned to memorize when I was a kid, or as the words they taught us to chant in the Lutheran church of my childhood. Though they are lovely, when I read them I almost never think of them as music, and, since I'm not a very musical person, I've honestly never really thought it mattered one way or the other.
That changed this past Sunday. Our pastor began his sermon, the latest in a series on the church, with a discussion of Psalm 118. He explained that it was originally written as a festival song, most likely for the Festival of Booths, and that it was sung responsively. The crowd gathered at the Temple to worship. The song-leader sang his part, and, from memory, the people sang their response. One of the points he was leading up to was that when verses from this and other Psalms are referred to in the New Testament, the Jewish audience would have immediately recognized the allusion and make the connection to the Psalm it was quoted from along with its context.
So, for instance, when Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey and the crowd burst into cheers, it was one of the response portions of Psalm 118 from which they drew their words of praise:
And again, when Jesus and the Apostles Peter and Paul made reference to "the cornerstone", they were alluding to another responsive portion of Psalm 118:
"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God." Col. 3:16