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One Equal Music 4

Written by Philippa White, posted on Sunday, May 3, 2020

O God, thou art my God

O God, thou art my God: early will I seek thee.

My soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh also longeth after thee:

 in a barren and dry land where no water is.

Thus have I looked for thee in holiness: that I might behold thy power and glory.

For thy loving-kindness is better than life itself: my lips shall praise thee.

As long as I live will I magnify thee on this manner: and lift up my hands in thy Name.

Because thou hast been my helper: therefore under the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice.

Hallelujah.

(Psalm 63: 1-5, 8), set by Henry Purcell (1659-1695)

Soundcloud icon Oh God, Thou Art My God 


This setting of text from the Psalm sums up the difficulties and complexities of this Eastertide.

We are called to rejoice, to sing God’s praise, to be joyful in the Resurrection of Jesus – but, alone in our homes, anxious for those near to us, working on the many front-lines of response to the virus, that can be a very difficult thing to do. It is one thing to say ‘Alleluia, Christ is risen’ in company with one another, surrounded by the soaring architecture of the cathedral, accompanied by the transcendent music of the choir, expecting to receive the Eucharist and looking forward to meeting friends and family. It is quite another to say it at home, alone or with our family, in lockdown with no end in sight.

Psalm 63 begins, as we may, in trouble, sorrow and need: with the speaker in ‘a barren and dry land where no water is,’ seeking God with increasing desperation. But it’s not where the text ends. The speaker begins by seeking God where God is not – she ends by praising God, ‘because thou hast been my helper;’ by rejoicing in God’s presence and protection, and by crying Hallelujah.

And Purcell lingers on the final Hallelujah. The first section is controlled, relatively quiet, and slow; making use of soloists and repeated, yearning melodies to convey the speaker’s lonely quest for God. But as the speaker’s mood changes, so does the music. Voices join together and crescendo as the speaker resolves to magnify God. And the final minute, a quarter of the short anthem, is taken up by that lingering Hallelujah: the controlled and metrical setting of text blossoming into a new melody and joined by new harmonies, triumphantly asserting God’s glory in the midst of trouble.

This final melody is familiar, arranged as the hymn tune ‘Westminster Abbey’ to which we sing the hymn ‘Christ is made the sure foundation.’ This is another great assertion of God’s glory and Christ’s triumphant reign over all things – even death, even Covid-19 – and it’s also a reminder that we are the Church because we are Christ’s people, Christ’s body, putting our trust in him. No suspension of public worship, no lack of meeting together, can ever change that.

In this season of Easter, falling in the middle of pandemic and lockdown, much in our everyday lives has changed and is still changing. But the central truth of Christian faith remains the same: Christ, risen, ascended and glorified, is the same yesterday, today and forever. So, although we cannot meet to celebrate it, we know that Christ is risen. Although we may find it hard to rejoice, the joy of the Resurrection fills the universe.

And although we are many, physically distanced and isolated, we are one body. We worship our risen Lord Jesus, not ignoring the pain of many and the needs of the world, but because we trust that Christ’s victory over death gives hope for every situation.