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When God First Brought Us Back (Psalm 126)

Scripture References

Further Reflections on Scripture References

Psalm 126 is one of the “Songs of Ascent” (120-134) the Israelites sang as they went up to worship at the temple in Jerusalem. Here Israel celebrates their restoration from exile. With joy so great that they felt as if they were dreaming, the people returned to Jerusalem full of laughter and praise for the great things God had done for them, evoking wonder even among the unbelieving nations (vv. 1-3). Having been so favored, the worshipers pray that God’s acts of restoration may continue until those who “so with tears” bring in a bountiful harvest with “songs of joy” (vv. 5-6).
 
Sing! A New Creation

Confessions and Statements of Faith References

Further Reflections on Confessions and Statements of Faith References

Throughout all of history, God’s people proved to be unfaithful to him and yet God, in his mercy, was full of grace. These truths are expressed in Our World Belongs to God, paragraph 22: “When Israel spurned God’s love…God scattered them among the nations, yet kept a faithful remnant and promised them the Messiah…God promised to forgive their sins and give them a new heart and a new spirit, moving them to walk in his ways.”

Additional Prayers

We are overwhelmed, O Lord, by your love and saving goodness.
In Christ Jesus you restore both our lives and our world.
Like reapers at an unexpected harvest,
we shout your praise and sing your goodness. Amen.

Tune Information

Name
WAYFARING STRANGER
Key
c minor or modal
Meter
9.8.9.8 D

Musical Suggestion

The use of the tune WAYFARING STRANGER, an African American spiritual, creates resonance between this text and the Afro-American experience. Before singing this psalm setting, have an unaccompanied soloist sing the traditional, spiritual text:
I am a poor wayfaring stranger
while traveling through this world of woe.
Yet there’s no sickness, toil nor danger
In that bright world to which I go.
I’m going there to see my father (mother/sister/brother/Jesus)
I’m going there no more to roam.
I’m only going over Jordan,
I’m only going over home.

This minor folk tune is strong enough to carry both the joy of deliverance as well as the faith and trust that those who now “sow with tears” will one day also rejoice. The blues-like character of the melody invites a solo instrument (such as a saxophone) to introduce the melody. Sing in unison, in three broad beats per measure. Consider having a soloist on the first stanza who sings with full voice through the long half notes, almost crescendoing into the eight notes. Accompany with guitar, piano, and possibly bass. 

Hymn Story/Background

Psalm 126 is another of the fifteen "Songs of Ascents" (Psalms 120-134) the Israelites sang as they went up to worship at the temple in Jerusalem. Here Israel celebrates their restoration from exile, most likely the exile in Babylon. With joy so great that they felt as if they were dreaming, the people returned to Jerusalem full of laughter and praise for the great things God had done for them, evoking wonder even among unbelieving nations. Having been so favored, the worshipers pray that God's acts of restoration may continue until those who "sow in tears" bring in a bountiful harvest with "songs of joy" (vv. 5-6)–in other words, until God makes their joy complete.
 
The tune name WAYFARING STRANGER points to the original text of this American spiritual. The tune is actually a composite from Sacred Harp (1844) and Nathaniel Dett’s Folk Songs of the Negroes Sung at the Hampton Institute (1927).

Author Information

Carl P. Daw, Jr. (b. Louisville, KY, 1944) is the son of a Baptist minister. He holds a PhD degree in English (University of Virginia) and taught English from 1970-1979 at the College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia. As an Episcopal priest (MDiv, 1981, University of the South, Sewanee, Tennesee) he served several congregations in Virginia, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. From 1996-2009 he served as the Executive Director of The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada. Carl Daw began to write hymns as a consultant member of the Text committee for The Hymnal 1982, and his many texts often appeared first in several small collections, including A Year of Grace: Hymns for the Church Year (1990); To Sing God’s Praise (1992), New Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual Songs (1996), Gathered for Worship (2006). Other publications include A Hymntune Psalter (2 volumes, 1988-1989) and Breaking the Word: Essays on the Liturgical Dimensions of Preaching (1994, for which he served as editor and contributed two essays. In 2002 a collection of 25 of his hymns in Japanese was published by the United Church of Christ in Japan. His current project is preparing a companion volume to Glory to God, the 2013 hymnal of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).  
 
— Emily Brink

Composer Information

Horace Boyer (b. Winter Park, Flordia, July 28, 1935; d. Amherst, Massachusetts, July 21, 2009) was professor of music at the University of Massachussetts, Amhurst, editor of the African American hymnal Lift Every Voice and Sing, Lift Every Voice and Sing II, and author of How Sweet the Sound: The Golden Age of Gospel (Elliot & Clark, 1995). 
Hymnary.org does not have a score for this hymn.