Jerusalem is on fire (The Art Bible, 1896)

How can we sing a song of the LORD on foreign soil?

Psalm 137 appears in the Lectionary for the Fourth Sunday of Lent in Year B. “Let my tongue be silenced if I ever forget you!” You may notice in singing Psalm 137 that it is perhaps one full of emotion. What’s the context of the Psalm?

Psalm 137 is one of the Psalms of Lament. Specifically, it laments the destruction of the City of Jerusalem. The Babylonian Empire continued the conquest of the Middle East by capturing the Southern portion of what was once a unified Israel. The conquest happened about 586 B.C. The Assyrians had already taken the Northern portion some 12 decades earlier.

This was not just the loss of some land. This was the Holy Land. The Promised Land. If the Promised Land was a sign that God loved the people of the Covenant: What does it mean when the land goes away?

We witness war around the world. The loss of one’s home and community is devastating in itself. But the Theological questions are large: Does God still love the Chosen People? Are they no longer “chosen?”

Or – as the sung portion asks, “How can we sing a song of the LORD on foreign soil?”

Or worse: the captors want the People of Israel to entertain them. “Sing us a song of Zion,” they said. But yet they “hung their harps” because the mood was not one of excitement

And the singing of this Psalm is not a Psalm of joy, either. The Psalmist who proclaims this Psalm should therefore be somber in the approach. This is not the same as singing, “This is the day the Lord has made!”

The piano, organ, or guitar accompanying the singer should consider playing their music softly, quietly. Perhaps pick a setting that makes use of minor chords at key times that express the sentiment portrayed.

And articulating the lament of Psalm 137 helps contrast the joyful message we see in the Gospel, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

Check out the many Simply Liturgical options for musical settings of Psalm 137 for the Fourth Sunday of Lent!

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