This piece is a best-selling modern pop song based on an Old Testament lament from Psalm 137. Jewish exiles weep for their beloved city Jerusalem, from which they had been torn and transported to Babylon. The verses were set to music nearly 200 years before McClean recorded it, and I first heard it. The modern version has a few differences, and is built up in layers of a single voice with a minimal, repetitive banjo accompaniment. It is very short, and the result is hauntingly beautiful. It’s adapted from the original 4-part canon by Philip Hayes of 1786.
This song reminds me that lament has always been a vital feature of Jewish and Christian worship and prayer. When we are in despair, we can cry out to God and be assured that he hears us – because, as the story of Christmas and Easter tells us, in Jesus he weeps with us.
© Alison Blenkinsop