Psalm 118: Give Thanks to the Lord

Two weeks ago, I was artist-in-residence at Western Theological Seminary at the invitation of Prof. Dr. Rev. Ron Rienstra. Part of my work was to plan chapel services with students. We chose the theme “Psalm Echoes,” each day pairing a Psalm with a New Testament passage that quoted the Psalm or resonated with its themes. It was pretty splendid if I don’t say so myself.

Friday’s chapel (a weekly communion service) paired Psalm 118 with Matthew 26. In this retelling of the Last Supper, it is thought that “When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” refers to the singing of the last Hallel Psalm, Psalm 118. Ron was planning to preach on the texts, letting them lead him right to the communion table. Brilliant.

On Thursday evening, I got a text:

(7:17 pm)
Ron: Hey Greg – you want a challenge?
Greg: Maybe?
Ron: At the beginning and end of the sermon can we sing [picture of “Feed Us, Lord” melody with Psalm 118 text] I was gonna ask you to write a quick new song to exactly those words – but then I thought: hey, this would work, too.
Greg: What style and tempo are you looking for?
Ron: Joyful and thankful without rocking out.
Greg: I’m baking fresh bread and might want to add a loaf of fresh notes to the oven.
Ron: Hey if that’s what you wanna do… you are most welcome to do so! If you are up to the challenge, that is. (7:34 pm)

Of course, Ron knew exactly what he was doing. Baiting me with a challenge. Getting me firmly on the hook with a song that would get the job done but wasn’t inspiring or new. And then reeling me in with “If you are up to the challenge…” Naturally, I couldn’t resist. Between baking bread and driving kids various places, I wrote a few drafts. None was quite right. I was just about ready to admit defeat but gave it one last look before heading to bed. Things clicked and I finished it a few minutes later. The night ended with an email to Ron:

(10:47 pm) This is all you’re getting from me tonight: [PDF of new song]

We sang it in chapel the next morning and it worked beautifully. Simple, but fitting. In the recording above I interspersed the refrain with a reading of Psalm 118 in its entirety.

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