for the 5th Sunday of lent

Psalm 129 Commentary

Although we frequently associate Psalm 129 death, because if the “out of the depths” phrase that starts the psalm,  verse one is the only possible allusion to death. Its original context was its being the eleventh of the Songs of Ascent, as the pilgrims went up the final hill to the Jerusalem Temple. 

Those “depths” suggest the deep waters of chaos which could surround the penitent pilgrim as he or she moves towards the forgiveness of God, appealing three times: “I cry to You! Hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my voice!” Since the time of Augustine, Psam 129 has been used in the church as one of the 7 penitential psalms. 

Verse 4 says, “with you is found forgiveness!. The psalmist sees forgiveness as a characteristic feature of God. We know the phrase, “to err is human; to forgive divine”. The Hebrew word hesed , is a feminine word, often weakly translated as “mercy”, but it has a depth that means the unfailing love of a mother. It looks for a renewed relationship, just as the watchman looks with hope for the light of a new day, with its fresh opportunities ahead.

This hope is for the fullness of redemption. The psalmist recalls God’s redemption from slavery in Egypt and restoration after exile in Babylon. Now the joyful hope is for God’s redeeming WORD.

In our Liturgy of the Word, the psalm bridges the vision of Ezekiel as God’s Spirit enlivens the dead bones of Israel while looking forward to the Gospel where Jesus shows through Lazarus that he  is the Resurrection and the life.

In all of this, doubters may ask, “Is God listening?” The psalmist suggests simply, “Wait in joyful hope!”  

audio of the commentary

audio of the commentary
Ps 129: words (c) The Grail, England. Music (c) Francis Duffy. Recorded by Grace Buckley. St Mungo Music.

Audio of Ps 129: words and music Noel Donnelly. (c) Kevin Mayhew. Recorded by The St Mungo Singers.