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One Equal Music 5

Written by Philippa White, posted on Sunday, May 10, 2020

The Fifth Sunday of Easter: God is our hope and strength

Soundcloud icon God is Our Hope and Strength 

In a different timeline, the world unaffected by coronavirus that we were planning for in December and January, this weekend’s VE Day celebrations would have looked very different. Here at Christ Church, we would have welcomed representatives of the county’s civic life and of the armed forces, including those from the RAF Training College at Shrivenham. We would have celebrated together, remembered together, given thanks together, and committed ourselves together to being people of peace.

But of course, celebration, remembrance, thanksgiving and commitment do not cease because we cannot meet together. Whether through picnics in the garden or socially distanced street celebrations, through the Lord Lieutenant’s broadcast speech and the 3pm toast or through our own broadcast of Evensong, we have had plenty of opportunity to celebrate 75 years of peace; to pray for those who still suffer the effects of war; to give thanks for the sacrifice of those who gave their lives in conflict; and to promise to play our part in bringing peace and reconciliation into our world.

At times of remembrance like this one, we often use Psalm 46, and the anthem I’ve chosen for today’s blog is a setting of that psalm by Henry Aldrich (1648-1710), an amateur architect, singer and composer; and Dean of Christ Church, 1689-1710). It was recorded in 2019 by the Cathedral Singers of Christ Church as part of ongoing research into Aldrich’s life and choral legacy.

Here is the Book of Common Prayer’s translation of Psalm 46:

  1. GOD is our hope and strength: a very present help in trouble.
  2. Therefore will we not fear, though the earth be moved: and though the hills be carried into the midst of the sea;
  3. Though the waters thereof rage and swell: and though the mountains shake at the tempest of the same.
  4. The rivers of the flood thereof shall make glad the city of God: the holy place of the tabernacle of the most Highest.
  5. God is in the midst of her, therefore shall she not be removed: God shall help her, and that right early.
  6. The heathen make much ado, and the kingdoms are moved: but God hath shewed his voice, and the earth shall melt away.
  7. The Lord of hosts is with us: the God of Jacob is our refuge.
  8. O come hither, and behold the works of the Lord: what destruction he hath brought upon the earth.
  9. He maketh wars to cease in all the world: he breaketh the bow, and knappeth the spear in sunder, and burneth the chariots in the fire.
  10. Be still then, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, and I will be exalted in the earth.
  11. The Lord of hosts is with us: the God of Jacob is our refuge.

The conflicts Aldrich had in mind as he composed this setting of the psalm are far from the experiences of the Second World War. But, as someone who lived through the Great Plague of 1665-1666, perhaps the fear, isolation and illness which he experienced in his late teens is not far from our own experience during this difficult season.

Whatever troubles Aldrich had in mind as he set the first verses of the psalm, the remaining eight verses are not a complaint, a lament or an explanation of the world’s pain. Instead, they are an expression of trust in God: appropriate for the seventeenth century, for the Second World War, and for this time of coronavirus. The psalm is a reminder that, however difficult things are and however far we feel from one another and from God, God holds all things in love and promises help and renewal. Perhaps that’s a reminder we can value and take beyond VE Day and into all that challenges us.