The Lord's my Shepherd

During this time whilst we can’t sing together in worship we are aiming to post a different hymn each week.  For some Sundays it will be the obvious hymn in Common Praise for a particular Sunday and a brief commentary – partly with reference to The Penguin Book of Hymns edited by Ian Bradley – will be published with our hymn choice for the week.  The words of the hymn will be provided alongside a recording of the hymn, courtesy of Lucy Colbourne at home whilst Lancaster University is in lockdown.  This will have been recorded by Billy Colbourne (Assistant Organist) and includes use of his Hauptwerk organ also at home, with the sounds of Salisbury Cathedral’s organ.

Charles Pavey – Organist & Choirmaster

The Lord's my Shepherd (Psalm 23)

The Lord’s my shepherd, I’ll not want.
He makes me lie in pastures green.
He leads me by the still, still waters,
His goodness restores my soul.

And I will trust in You alone,
And I will trust in You alone,
For Your endless mercy follows me,
Your goodness will lead me home.

He guides my ways in righteousness,
And He anoints my head with oil,
And my cup, it overflows with joy,
I feast on His pure delights.

And I will trust in You…

And though I walk the darkest path,
I will not fear the evil one,
For You are with me, and Your rod and staff
Are the comfort I need to know.

And I will trust in You…

 Words: Psalm 23 adapted Stuart Townend
Music: Stuart Townend
 

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Hymn Commentary 

The hymn for this week takes us away from Common Praise and, although it has been heard at Holy Trinity before, it was only previously sung by the Junior Choir.  But you will find that as it has the same tune for both its three verses and its three refrains, getting to know the tune is easily achievable.  Indeed the writer of the hymn, Yorkshireman Stuart Townend (born 1963), said that a tune “popped into my head and the whole thing was written in ten minutes”.  Those of us who dabble with composing and arranging music wish it would happen like that for us too! 

Despite its simplicity this hymn (which is published in more recent versions of Mission Praise) has a beauty which befits the psalm it paraphrases.  And although it is a relatively contemporary hymn, the psalm on which it is based pre-dates Christ by about 1000 years.  Sometimes referred to as a hymn book for the Old Testament, most of the 150 psalms were written by King David and, although a king when he wrote them, he had previously been a shepherd.  Is one of the reasons that Psalm 23 is the most famous of psalms because this ex-shepherd painted pictures in words of things he himself had experienced?

The themes or pictures in Psalm 23’s six verses start with the basic idea that as ‘The Lord’s my Shepherd’, I have everything I need.  Green pasture, still waters and restoration of the soul are pictures that follow both in this hymn and in the original psalm.  And, if you are a gardener, you will appreciate how this week’s rain has made the grass greener and brightened up the colours in the garden’s borders.

The hymn’s refrain highlights trust in God which is a theme that encompasses the whole psalm without it being explicitly mentioned in the original.  However, Stuart Townend believes that the psalm should elicit a response of us trusting God as mercy is to be found and goodness will lead us home – see the second half of the hymn’s refrain and the last verse of the original psalm.

The second verse of the hymn picks up on righteous ways, oil anointed heads and overflowing cups (verses three and five of the original psalm).  This leaves us only with verse four of Psalm 23 which is given over to the whole of verse three in the hymn.  When Junior Choir sang this verse it started with absolute stillness and calm despite describing what was in the original: “Yet though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death”.  What follows in the hymn is the build up towards the final refrain as described above.  Psalm 23 is often read at funerals and David Nichol’s fundamental comment about the psalm’s fourth verse at funerals was that God will not leave us in the valley of the shadow of death but will lead us through it.   For, with God, ‘I will not fear the evil one’ and ‘Your rod and staff are the comfort I need to know’. 

The writer of this week’s hymn didn’t set out to improve the original psalm but he may have helped us to look at it in a different way as we read, listen and perhaps sing; like Easter itself, the message of Psalm 23 can’t be improved.

Charles Pavey – Organist & Choirmaster

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