Rick Seaholm is Commissioned Minister of Music at Edwards Church UCC in Framingham, MA and is on the IT staff and Information Systems faculty at Boston University Questrom School of Business. His reflections and sermons are compiled at www.rickseaholm.com.
Scripture: Psalm 84 (NIV)
Birds in the Altar
How lovely is your dwelling place,
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.
Reflection: All Who Dwell
As a Commissioned Minister of Music, I can't help but run a soundtrack any time I read a scripture passage that includes texts that I have sung over the years. Psalm 84 is just such an example. There have been so many settings of "How lovely is thy dwelling place", but when I read the full Psalm (or even just the first few verses beyond those that were set by Johannes Brahms), I am struck by the sentiments that were out of his scope.
The Brahms setting I refer to is from his German Requiem, the central movement of a massive piece inspired by the Catholic tradition of Requiem masses for the dead, but which shows a very different direction of process and of faith. A Catholic Mass is comprised of two sets of texts: the Propers and the Ordinary. The Ordinary are unchanging texts, requisite in all Masses (in a traditional UCC service, this would roughly be similar to those elements that your administrative assistant doesn't need to update in the bulletin weekly: Lord's Prayer, Passing the Peace, Benediction, Gloria, to name a few). The Propers are the variable texts which respond to the purpose of the day (for us, a special Christmas prayer, maybe, or your tradition to sing For All the Saints on the first Sunday you meet in November).
Compositionally speaking, then, a Catholic Requiem Mass includes the traditional elements for all Masses (such as the Kyrie, Agnus Dei, etc.) but also the texts proper to the remembrance of the dead (Dies irae, Rex tremendae, and so on). The purpose, roughly speaking, of those Propers is to give comfort to the soul departed, in the hopes of its final resting place being the more pleasing of options.
Brahms goes in a very different direction. His German Requiem is in the vernacular of his congregation, for one; not a Latin phrase to be found. The Biblical texts he uses are intended for those of us who remain, grieving our loss. Reassuring texts ("I will comfort you") join the more matter-of-fact ("We're all grass and dust, anyway!"). Structurally speaking, the piece is a perfectly balanced, seven movement rise and fall, with parallels to be made between movements 1 and 7, 2 and 6, etc. And there in the middle he quotes Psalm 84, "Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen", but just a tad.
You should seek out a recording if you are not already familiar with the piece. This movement, adapted as an English language anthem that appears in every church music library, I guarantee, draws on the serene beauty of heaven, using every sonorous, melodious tool at his disposal.
Today, I'm drawn to verse three. When considered as a component of the massive choral piece, it's quite poignant to think that we are welcome in heaven, but it's more than that. According to verse three of the Psalm, so are the birds (and we can assume, other creatures too). I chuckle thinking of any Board of Trustees trying to balance this notion with a modern-day sparrow or swallow finding a nest or home near the altars of our own sanctuaries. Not quite what the Psalmist had in mind!
But regardless of where Brahms chose to make his cuts, the Psalmist’s forethought assures us in verse four that yes, all who dwell in the house of God are welcome.
God, help us to appreciate even the littlest of creatures as we care for the world. All are welcome in your house, and we must remember to show our love to all your creation. Amen
New Prayer Requests:
We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Drew Page at email@example.com
Prayers of Intercession:
- For the victims and their families of the 434 mass shootings already carried out in 2021
- For the children and families starting school this month as Covid-19 cases surge and safety becomes a concern once again
- For the people of Afghanistan where the Taliban troops have seized control of much of the nation
- For the people of Haiti where an earthquake has left more than 1200 dead and thousands displaced
Prayers of Joy and Thanksgiving:
- For the beauty and artistry of music and all the joy it brings to listeners of all genres
This Week in History:
August 16, 1977 (44 years ago) Rock and roll icon Elvis Presley dies in Memphis at age 42. Doctors say the death was caused by heart attack, likely related to a barbiturate addition. Presley's rise to fame came after he was discovered by recording studio owner Sam Phillips after 19-year old Presley paid $4 to record songs for his mother. He released a recording of "That's All Right" on his Sun Records label, which top local charts and launched Elvis' career. Today, Elvis would have been 86.
“Study the past if you would define the future.”