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‘Sing, Sing, Sing’ – Canon Peter Collier KC, Cathedral Reader

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Title: ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’

Date: 28 April 2024, The Fifth Sunday of Easter

Preacher: Canon Peter Collier KC, Cathedral Reader

Readings: Isaiah 60:1-14; Rev 3:1-13, Psalm 96 


‘Sing, Sing, Sing’

The psalm the choir sang this evening – Psalm 96 – is one of the great psalms of praise.

We don’t know if it was written for the particular occasion, but we do know of a particular occasion when it was used. That was when the ark was being brought back to Jerusalem. We read about it in the first book of Chronicles chapter 16.

After the Israelites had escaped from Egypt, they had some formalities about how and where they worshipped God. They worshipped in what was known as the tabernacle, which was a portable shrine. In it there were various items of furniture and the ark was the central item, which was basically a wooden box covered in gold. Inside the box were the two tablets of stone on which the 10 commandments were written, a pot of manna, which was the special food God had provided for them in their 40 years in the desert, and Aaron’s rod or staff.

The ark had been captured by the Philistines, but it had brought them very bad luck – 7 months of plagues. So, they took it back to Israel and dumped it in a place called Kiriath-jearim where it sat for 20 years.

Then King David decided to bring it back to Jerusalem. And that is where we read about it in Chronicles.

We read how it was brought in a great procession into Jerusalem. I want us tonight to picture in our minds’ eyes this procession that David organised to bring the ark up into Jerusalem.

It talks about a choir of singers and then there were musicians playing horns, cymbals, trumpets, harps and lyres.

I had hoped that I might find somewhere on the internet that someone had attempted to put that sound back together again; but if it is there, I couldn’t find it. It would unquestionably have been very loud, and I think rather cacophonous.

The choir was formed on royal command specifically for the event. The choir’s commission was to sing this psalm, along with parts of two other psalms, but this psalm – psalm 96 – was the main part and body of their work.

It would seem that this is the first mention in the Bible of the formation of a choir to sing a service. So we can trace what we have been doing here this afternoon right back to that event 2000 years ago. And ever since then, this psalm has been sung in worship. The style of music has of course changed over the years because music is a cultural phenomenon. In this country and on this very site in the early years of the Minster it would have been sung in plain song, and then polyphony was introduced in the middle of the 15th century, along with someone known as the “instructor of the choristers”. We now sing in a variety of styles. And there are of course a number of modern hymns and worship songs also written based on this psalm.

Apart from the music there was also dancing. We know the king threw some real shapes that day. David was leaping and dancing about in his white tunic.

And there was a barbecue of roast meats.

They really knew how to hold a party.

Although the music has changed the words have remained unchanged. They have passed through various translations into many languages over time and of course the one the choir sang to us tonight is Coverdale’s translation into the English of his day from the Latin version that was in use in 1535.

So what of the content of this psalm?

Well, we can note the repeating of things three times. At the very beginning of the psalm the word “sing” is used three times, and a little further on the word “ascribe” is also used three times.

Today often in our own worship we repeat things three times – “Holy, Holy, Holy”; and often composers of music repeat a line three times. There is something that is quite basic and satisfying about that, and it’s here also. A tradition that we have inherited from way back then.

But what are we to sing? Three “sings”: three things.

First, we are told to sing a new song. And this was on that occasion a brand new song. I am very encouraged that in our worship here, we often sing new songs – sometimes new words but more often new music. Much of our music this evening has been written by 3 women who are all our contemporaries and most of them significantly younger than many of us. The music for the introit the choir sang as the service began was composed last year by Lucy Walker, who is 25 years old; the preces by Joanna Forbes L’Estrange who is all of 52; and the canticles by Dobrinca Tabakova who is 43.

So this psalm is a real encouragement to us constantly to go on finding new ways of expressing our worship to God. The song remains the same, but it needs to be ever renewed.

But secondly – the second “sing” – the psalm invites the whole earth, all creation, to sing to God. You may remember a few weeks ago on Palm Sunday we were remined that when the religious leaders told Jesus to stop the people singing his praises, he said that if they stopped the very stones would cry out. And as we walk around the city, especially at this time of year when the trees and shrubs are coming alive with that lovely fresh greenness – we can see perhaps a small part of the whole earth singing its praise to the God who made and sustains it all.

And of course the anthem was just about that, about when the winter is ended and all things begin to come alive again. And so the whole of creation is to and does sing to God.

But the third “sing” is what should be at the very centre of all our singing and praise – namely the salvation God has given us. For David and his choir that was focussed very much on God saving them from slavery in Egypt. For us it is the salvation we celebrate in this season of Easter, when through his death and rising Jesus has shown that Good Friday is never the end. Through his dying and rising Jesus has enabled us to have God’s life within us; to know God as our Father – Abba, our Daddy. In a moment we shall be singing about how Judah’s Lion burst his chains and crushed the serpent’s head, and how He is now triumphant in glory, ruling over everything. This is the very heart of the gospel and should always be at the heart of our worship.

Then there is another strand finally to this psalm which again should always be at the heart of worship – there is only one true God – the God who made everything. Coverdale says “as for all the gods of the heathen they are but idols”. These gods with a small “g” might be things, objects, images, but they may be ideas. There are so many things that we can see as being in control of our lives and to whose laws we must submit. The psalm says that all these things are “idols”, the word literally means, and in other places is translated: “worthless”. So our worship should always bring us to know in our hearts that there are no other people, principles, or powers that are to rule our lives; they are worth nothing compared with living as the children of the one true God.

So we are told three times to ascribe worship and honour to God and to stand in awe of this God. Ultimately again that is what all our worship is about. The introduction to our service booklet says this service immerses us in scripture which spoken and sung gives us time and space to lose ourselves in prayer and come closer to God.


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