Psalm 146: 5-10 Happy the one whose hopes rely on Israel’s God; who made the sky and earth and seas with all their train; God’s truth for ever stands secure; to save th’ oppress’d and feed the poor, and none shall find God’s promise vain.
The Lord has eyes to give the blind; arms to uplift the sinking mind; God sends the labouring conscience peace, and helps the stranger in distress, the widow and the fatherless, and grants the pris’ner sweet release.
God loves the saints and knows them well, but turns the wicked down to hell; your God, O Zion, ever reigns; let every tongue, let every age, in this exalted work engage: praise God in everlasting strains.
Isaac Watts, altd. From ‘I’ll praise my maker while I’ve breath’, hymn version of Psalm 146
Reflection Occasionally we hear hymns or their tunes on the football terraces, such as Abide with Me, Jerusalem, Cwm Rhondda (‘You’re not singing anymore’), and Lord of the Dance (‘We are the boys/girls from the Black Coun-treee’). It’s no wonder. Christian hymnody and football chants share a lot in common:
1. They express worship to the object of our devotion 2. They draw us together with one voice, heart and mind to a common purpose 3. They communicate our values 4. They remind us of previous glories, be they in 2022, 1966 or crossing the Red Sea 5. They uplift us when our hopes are failing 6. They express joy and lament 7. They help us resolve to get back on track 8. They express contempt for our enemies (whether injustice or the other team) 9. A good tune goes a long way 10. They annoy others when we bawl them lustily in a crowded train carriage.
How often do we sing songs at a game or in our churches that have no connection to our present reality? ‘I’m forever blowing bubbles’ can’t be literally true (can it?). And Psalm 146 asserts that God gives food to the hungry and sets the prisoner free. These words are easier to sing when we have food in our cupboards and a key to our front door.
If our chants and hymns are not rooted in our reality, why should we sing them at all? Isn’t it just wishful thinking, or a chasing after the wind, to quote the writer of Ecclesiastes? Whipping up hope that cannot be fulfilled is a weight that can crush the faith of the most fanatical supporter or ardent Jesus follower.
Perhaps we sing them because they are a rallying call to action. To cry out for your team or your God to act, now, mightily! To acknowledge the gap between our aspirations and what we see before us, to raise voices that change the atmosphere. Keep on singing.
Prayer Maker, I’ll praise you while I have breath. I’ll praise you even when I don’t feel like it; even when it seems like you’re not listening. Because I find you in the gap between hope and reality, joy and despair, losing and winning. I’ll keep on singing. Amen
Roo Stewart is Programme Support Officer for URC Church and Society and a member of the Joint Public Issues Team.