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Christ Has Died, Christ Is Risen, Christ Will Come Again: Proclaiming the Gospel through African-American Prayer and Song

This service was prepared for the 2004 Symposium on Worship and the Arts held at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan. James Abbington played each of the songs on the organ or the piano; those considering this service will want to find a person (or more than one person) who is gifted at playing both instruments for the traditional hymns and spirituals as well as for the contemporary Black gospel songs. Most, but not all songs are by African Americans; those that are not have become favorites of African-American Christians.

Two worship leaders shared the Scripture, readings, and prayers. As much as possible, the readings should be done in a speaking, not a reading style. This service would be very appropriate during February, designated in the United States as Black History Month.

For more background on the types of African-American songs included here, see the interview with James Abbington in RW 72 (June 2004) and the article about him on the website of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship (www.calvin.edu/worship; type “Abbington” in the search box).

—ERB

Gathering Music: “When Peace Like a River”

(st. 1-2) AAHH 377

Welcome and Opening Prayer

The prayer was concluded by singing together “Spirit of the Living God,” which led into a transition to the theme song of the service, the Memorial Acclamation “Christ Has Died” by Leon Roberts.

Christ Has Died

Scripture: John 12:20-33

[The refrain was sung both before and after the Scripture reading; the piano continued under the Scripture reading.]

Songs and Readings

Songs

“Calvary” AAHH 239, SNC 140 (sung unaccompanied)
“The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power” AAHH 256

Reading 1

Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and went to the top of a mountain, where Jesus was transformed before them. Jesus talked with Moses and Elijah. Peter became so captivated by it all that he said, “Lord, we are having such a good time, let’s stay here! Let’s build three booths and stay here forever! Let’s freeze time. Let’s eternalize this moment.”

But Jesus said to Peter, “No, Peter, we didn’t come up here to stay. This is a come and go affair. We have come up, but we must go down. There is a distraught father in the valley who needs help. A sick boy needs healing. There is a woman who has been hemorrhaging for twelve years and needs healing. There is an unbelieving, stumbling, and fumbling church that needs better organization. Let’s go down.”

—From “Encountering Jesus in Worship” by Zan W. Holmes Jr. (1992) [p. 331].

Reading 2

“If you don’t put anything in, you won’t get anything out!” . . . Worship is work—hard, active, disciplined, and sometimes painful work that demands something from us as it gives something to us. That is literally what the word that the New Testament uses so often for worship, leitourgia, means—“the work of the people.”

This reminds me of the story of a young college student who returned home for the holidays and accompanied his mother to church one Sunday. After they returned home, the young man said, “The preacher was not too good today.”

His mother said, “Well, maybe not.”

He said, “I noticed that the choir was not too good today.”

His mother said, “Well, maybe not.”

Then she said to him, “Well, son, tell me, how good were you today?”

—Zan W. Holmes [pp. 327-328]

Songs

“O Sacred Head, Sore Wounded” AAHH 250
“Koinonia/How Can I Say That I Love the Lord” AAHH 579

Reading 3

Having a good time is so characteristic of the authentic Black worship experience that the phrase “to have church” has become synonymous with “to have a good time.” It even carries over into the funeral service. I asked one of my members how the funeral service of her nephew had gone, since I was not able to attend the service. She replied, “It was a good funeral; we had a good time.”

This approach of celebration and festive worship does not deny the seriousness of worship. It is joy in the midst of sorrow. It is hope in the very depths of despair. It is a way of saying with Charles Albert Tindley: “I believe it. I believe it. Jesus died to set me free!” It is an affirmation of the words of Jesus: “In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33).

—Zan. W. Holmes [p. 328]

Prayer

Dear Jesus, we would fly to Thee,
And leave off every Sin,
Thy tender mercy well agree;
Salvation from our King;

Salvation comes now from the Lord,
Our victorious King.
His holy Name be well ador’d,
Salvation surely bring.

Dear Jesus, give thy Spirit now,
Thy grace to every Nation,
That hasn’t the Lord to whom we bow,
The author of Salvation.

Dear Jesus, unto Thee we cry,
Give us the preparation,
Turn not away thy tender Eye;
We seek thy true Salvation.

Salvation comes from God, we know,
The true and only One;
It’s well agreed and certain true,
He gave His only Son.

Come, Blessed Jesus, Heavenly Dove,
Accept repentance here;
Salvation give, with tender Love;
Let us with angels share.

—An excerpt from a prayer by Jupiter Hammon (1711-1806?) [pp. 117-119]. Born into slavery, Jupiter Hammon received an unusually extensive education on the Lloyd Manor Estate, taking advantage of the literature available to him in the Lloyd library and writing his poetry. A preacher to his fellow brethren on the estate, he wrote in broadside poetry and prose styles that were deeply influenced by his religious beliefs.

Christ Is Risen

Song: “Christ Has Died”

Scripture: John 20:11-16

[The Memorial Acclamation was sung before and after the reading.]

Songs

“The Angel Rolled the Stone Away” AAHH 279
“Hallelujah to the Risen Lamb” AAHH 278

Reading 4

To testify is to stand before the congregation and bear witness to one’s determination to keep on the “gospel shoes.” “I don’t know about you,” a sister might say, “but I intend to make it to the end of my journey. I started this journey twenty-five years ago, and I can’t turn back now. I know the way is difficult and the road is rocky. I’ve been in the valley, and I have a few more mountains to climb. But I want you to know this morning that I ain’t going to let a little trouble get in the way of me seeing my Jesus.”

—From “Sanctification, Liberation, and Black Worship”
by James H. Cone in Theology Today (July 1978) [p. 367].

Song: “Praise Him! Jesus, Blessed Savior” AAHH 172, SNC 48

Reading 5

Blacks believe that a sermon’s content is inseparable from the way in which it is proclaimed. Blacks are deeply concerned about how things are said in prayer and testimony and their effect upon those who hear it. The way I say “I love the Lord, he heard my cry” cannot be separated from my intended meaning as derived from my existential and historical setting. For example, if I am one who just escaped from slavery and my affirmation is motivated by that event, I will express my faith-claim with the passion and ecstasy of one who was once lost and now found. There will be no detachment in my proclamation of freedom. Only those who do not know bondage existentially can speak of liberation “objectively.” Only those who have not been in the “valley of death” can sing the songs of Zion as if they are uninvolved.

—James H. Cone [p. 367]

Song: “Psalm 116: I Love the Lord” SNC 226-227 (SNC 226 includes the reading of Psalm 116; at the end of the reading the entire song at 227 was sung.)

Easter Prayer

Lord, thank you for the victory of Christ over death. Through this resurrection, righteousness prevailed over evil and thus all are given hope. Grant us victory of love over hate, faith over fear, truth over lies, and strength over weakness. O God, as you led the Israelites to victory in war, please lead us to Your promised land. The war we fight is without blades. Your truth is our sword. May our lives be consecrated to help bring victory over evil. Bless our efforts, we pray. In Christ’s name. Amen.

—Reverend Chestina Mitchell Archibald [p. 85]

Christ Will Come Again

Song: “Christ Has Died”

Scripture: Acts 1:6-11

[Once more, the Memorial Acclamation was sung before and after the reading.]

Songs and Readings

Songs

“Where Shall I Be?” AAHH 196
“Walk Together, Children” AAHH 541

Reading 6

Without apology, traditional Black worship appeals to the emotion as well as the intellect. Some people view emotional expression as a kind of opiate—a passive response to the condition of oppression. What they call emotional compensation, however, others recognize as celebration and affirmation. Black people rejoice in worship because we have not hung our harps upon the willows, even in a strange land; we have sung for those who required songs of us. They were amused by what we sang, but we were strengthened. We knew what our songs meant, and their meaning was not what our captors thought they were hearing.

—From “The Tradition of Worship” by William D. Watley (1993) [pp. 292-293].

Reading 7

We continue to sing. Our preachers continue to proclaim God’s word in apocalyptic language. And thus we affirm ourselves, celebrate life, and, in the midst of nightmarish realities, find comfort for broken hearts and receive political, social, and personal strength for the days and struggles ahead. When, like Job, we had enough reasons to curse God and die, we glorified God. We weep when we remember our Zions on the shores of Africa, but we also rejoice because we know that “trouble don’t last always.” This affirmation is not theological pie-in-the-sky but eschatological realism.

—William D. Watley [pp. 292ff.]

Songs

“My Lord! What a Morning” AAHH 195
“Soon and Very Soon” AAHH 193, SNC 106

Prayer

O Lord of lords, King of kings, to you we pray. We pray that your sovereignty will be made known to all of humanity. It is our desire to see that your kingdom reigns here on earth. We know that without you there can be no joy, no peace, and no harmony; but with you, we can be the people of God and live in a kingdom not made by human hands. O Lord, fix our hearts so that your Spirit may dwell within us and your kingdom be known to all people. In the name of Jesus, who commanded not his will, but your will be done. We also pray, Lord, that it is not our will, but yours that is done. In and through Christ we pray. Amen.

—Reverend Chestina Mitchell Archibald [p. 75]

Doxology

Song: “Now Behold the Lamb” SNC 144

Commissioning and Blessing
Go into the world to work
With serving hearts, we leave.
Go into the world to sing new songs of joy.
With thankful hearts, we leave.
Go into the world to tell of God’s majestic deeds.
With the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

 

Excerpt
Sources for the Service

Artwork by Angela R. Taylor-Perry. Used by permisssion.

•Most songs were taken from two sources. Those listed as AAHH are from the African American Heritage Hymnal (Chicago: GIA Publications, 2001). James Abbington served on the editorial committee of this hymnal.

Those listed as SNC are from Sing! A New Creation (Grand Rapids: CRC Publications, 2001), a supplement published by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Faith Alive Resources, and the Reformed Church in America.

The “Memorial Acclamation” was taken from Lead Me, Guide Me (© by GIA Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. 7404 S. Mason Ave., Chicago, IL 60638).

The service program included all song texts and music; those under copyright by GIA Publications were printed by permission from a GIA license; all other song texts and music under copyright were printed by permission of a CCLI license.

•The readings were taken from Readings in African American Church Music and Worship, compiled and edited by James Abbington (G-5655, © by GIA Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. 7404 S. Mason Ave., Chicago, IL 60638).

— “Encountering Jesus in Worship,” Zan W. Holmes Jr., pastor, St. Luke Community United Methodist Church and Adjunct Professor of Preaching, Perkins School of Theology, Dallas, Texas.

— “Sanctification, Liberation, and Black Worship,” James H. Cone, from Theology Today (July 1978).

— “The Tradition of Worship,” William D. Watley, pastor, St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church, Newark, New Jersey.

•The prayers were taken from Say Amen!: The African American Family’s Book of Prayers, ed. Chestina Mitchell Archibald (New York, Dutton: The Penguin Group, 1997. Produced by The Philip Lief Group, Inc.).

•The Commissioning and Blessing were from Trumpet in Zion by Linda H. Hollies (Cleveland: Pilgrim Press), a series of three books of worship resources in the voices of African Americans based on the Revised Common Lectionary.

•The art is from the program cover designed by Angela R. Taylor Perry, a student at Calvin Theological Seminary.