“I wish the church knew how deeply God can change your life,” Mark said. His friends nodded in agreement around the lunch table, sharing a common meal of tacos and a common story of returning back to their communities after serving time in prison.
I am glad I wasn’t one of those first disciples. I can’t imagine journeying with Christ through what we call Holy Week without knowing the end of the story. Can you imagine thinking that the cross was the end?
What is the goal of the Christian life? For some, the goal is belief itself, followed by entering into the community of such belief: the church. Once they are “in” with God’s chosen people, they feel they have arrived.
This Good Friday service, which is based on the names of Jesus in Isaiah 9, combines teaching with Scripture and song. It’s a quiet, meditative service meant to provoke deep reflection, so consider lowering the lights in the sanctuary and asking congregants to enter and exit in silence.
This service of shadows follows Matthew after he abandoned Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. We imagine that Matthew follows the path that Jesus took, speaking with 12 people who each tell him a part of the crucifixion story. As they talk about the events that have taken place, Matthew is reminded of prophecies from Isaiah, from the psalms, and from the words of Jesus himself as he foretold his death.
In this drama, loosely based on Matthew 27:55-61 and 28:1-10, Mary Magdalene (MM) and “the other Mary” reflect on their time with Jesus and the events of Easter morning.
While the details of these two women’s lives are unclear, what isn’t disputed is the fact that they traveled with Jesus and the disciples and played a significant role in the resurrection narrative and message.
Convicted by the rooster’s crow,
I was his friend, now was his foe.
Jesus, my master, stood so near,
yet I found no comfort, only fear.
Thrice they asked me if I knew,
“Weren’t you one of his followers few?”
Thrice I said, “I do not know!”
I denied him so they’d let it go.
Dan Damon is an author/composer who knows and understands the tradition of hymn-writing but is able to infuse it with creative post-modern thought—and vice versa. While his texts are to the point, they do not indulge in stark language merely for shock value or to prove their “relevance.” And Damon’s tunes, notable for their diversity, are singable and supportive of the text.
The term “praise team” seems so limiting.
Isn’t there a better alternative?
In 2009, Emily Brink and Paul Neeley participated in two worship conferences in Pakistan co-sponsored by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship (CICW) and the Tehillim School of Church Music and Worship (TSCM). Rev. Eric Sarwar, a pastor in the Presbyterian Church of Pakistan and founder of TSCM, arranged both conferences, one at the Presbyterian Seminary in Gujranwala, and the other hosted by Christ the King Roman Catholic Seminary in Karachi.
This litany encourages us to acknowledge the frantic pace of our lives, remember that God knows us inside and out, and take time to be still.
Leader: We sit here trying our best to steady ourselves for an hour or two, but you know us, Lord. You know the distractions that tug at our minds, the worries that vie for our attention, the burdens that betray our affections.
How do we speak in worship? What language do we use? Sometimes the best response is silence, awe, and wonder. Sometimes we need to spring to our feet with joy, raise our hands in praise, and clap with the trees of the field. We speak with unscripted words such as “amen” and “praise the Lord” and with scripted but equally sincere phrases such as “thanks be to God” and “hear our prayer.” And sometimes we speak in poetry.
A few weeks before Lent, a team from our church got together to discuss how we could use art in our sanctuary to help us reflect more deeply on Jesus’ sacrifice. We have a history of displaying in our sanctuary and our gathering space various pieces of art that is created by teams of adults incorporating the work of children and teens in our congregation. It was our hope that we could once again come up with an art project that would include contributions from children and teens but not be childish.
Maundy Thursday (“Maundy” meaning “mandate” or “command”) remembers the time Jesus spent with his disciples in the upper room. It was there that Jesus gave the ultimate example of being a servant as he washed the disciples’ feet:
This service is comprised of seven movements, each of which focuses on one of Jesus’ seven last words and consists of a gospel reading, a meditation, and a congregational response. It combines elements traditional to the Stations of the Cross, Tre Ore, and Tenebrae services, as well as a few subtle dramatic devices of the Passion Play.
WEEK ONE: “My Son, My Savior!”
Theme: Jesus is both man and God.
Speaker: Mary, the Mother of Jesus
Scripture: Luke 2:6-7, 16-19, 48-51; John 2:1-5; 19:25-27; Acts 1:14
Good morning. I’m Mary, the wife of Joseph the carpenter, the mother of Jesus.
Editor’s Note: While some churches have Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Saturday Easter Vigil services, others find themselves holding one service in which to encapsulate the drama and depth of all that occurred in those three days. It is for that second group of churches that this service is designed. Using Scripture, music, poetry, and art, this service takes the worshiper on a three-day journey from Maundy Thursday to the darkness of the Easter Vigil.
This service, entitled “It is Over. It Begins,” was billed as an art-filled evening of remembrance and hope. It included music, poetry, dance, and visual art arranged around the traditional Tenebrae structure centered on the seven sayings of Christ on the cross.
The lectionary cycle for Lent in Year A includes incredibly rich psalms. As poetry, psalms are full of sights, smells, tastes, touches, and sounds. They are a great launching pad for engaging all our senses in worship. This cycle of prayer stations takes advantage of that opportunity.
Thinking about Lent again makes me feel a bit fatigued, especially when I think about all the energy required to defend and promote all the disciplines of obedience that are so important during Lent. Our congregation resists all of that “spiritual protein.” How can I overcome my congregation’s resistance?
The climactic scene of Matthew’s gospel describes the risen Christ standing with his disciples in Galilee as he gives them final instructions. He tells them to go and “make disciples of all nations.” As Jesus invited each of them to follow him and to form a community with each other, Jesus now asks them to invite others to come into communities of discipleship. He institutionalizes his own method of community organizing: inviting people into relationship with a leader and then with each other.
What do Lent, Good Friday, Easter, the psalms, and caring for God’s creation have in common? Two things: they are all themes present in this issue of Reformed Worship, and they all have to do with living “in the tension.”
What do dead sheep, bloody doorposts, stone-ground flour, bread, and tents have in common? Each of these were visual aids that God gave to his people to draw them into a full-bodied relationship with himself.
Q:Are there ever instances in which it could be appropriate for people to celebrate the Lord’s Supper using a video feed over the Internet, especially for small rural churches in northern Canada that are separated by miles yet served by only one pastor? Could that be considered a real celebration of the Lord’s Supper?
Over the nearly sixteen years when I was preaching two new sermons every week, I dipped into the Revised Common Lectionary only sporadically. Typically I’d turn to Lectionary texts for Advent or maybe for Lent, especially if I had no fresh ideas for a sermon series. However, since coming to Calvin Seminary seven years ago, I use the Lectionary every week as the basis of the sermon-starter articles some colleagues and I have been posting on the Center for Excellence in Preaching website every Monday morning.
We all have scars, from the unsutured nicks of our childhood to long gouges left on a chest from bypass surgery, to the empty rippled space from a mastectomy. Some scars are readily visible; others are hidden and remain hidden from embarrassment or reticence.
And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18).
We all have a story to tell. But as Christians, our story is God’s story. We are called to tell our stories in order to tell “the old, old story of Jesus and his love.”
Honest faith requires expressions of lament. Most of us do not have to ponder too deeply to realize that something is wrong; the world’s not all as it should be. However, this feeling, this sense of discomfort and frustration, is not often expressed in our worship. Shouldn’t we be able to express ourselves honestly in worship, asking God the difficult questions—the ones that keep us up at night due to our lack of satisfying answers?
During Holy Week we often focus on the “red” storyline of Christ’s shed blood offered as atonement for our sins. This is the central message of the cross. However, both before and beyond the cross is a bigger, grander, “greener” story of redemption that highlights the “red” storyline even more.
This service was originally designed to be a chapel service at Unity Christian High School in Hudsonville, Michigan, during Holy Week, but it could be expanded into a full worship service by adding elements like a sermon, offering, and time of confession/assurance. It could also be adapted for use at any time during the year when there is an emphasis on God’s marvelous creation.
(On stage: Speaker 1 and men’s chorus.)
Here are eight worship services on the theme of creation. The general idea for the worship services was originally inspired by a seminar with Tim Brown on his book The Seven Pillars of Creation, although the worship services developed in a somewhat different direction than the book.
For each service, you are encouraged to adapt the prayers of the people to fit the needs of your congregation.
Here’s a summary of the themes and Scripture passages for each of the eight services.
The sun threw its first gloriously warm beams of the spring season upon the singing birds, busy trucks on the downtown street, a neighborhood band rehearsing somewhere out of view. Children scampered eagerly over the playground across the street as we gathered from our homes, schools, and places of employment.
The seasons of Lent and Easter bring countless images of our Lord’s suffering, passion, and resurrection. What better way to capture the significance of this image-rich season than through these songs with their rich texts and music?
If Palm Sunday occurred today, how might it be covered by the media? That was the question I found myself asking as I was preparing for Palm Sunday and thinking about the gospel reading. My answer to that question comes in the form of the following Palm Sunday “broadcast.”
While reading Tim Keller’s book Counterfeit Gods and contemplating a series of messages on idolatry during the Lent season, I realized that perhaps each violation after the first two of the ten commandments (you shall have no other gods; you shall not make idols) points to some expression of idolatry. And then I read Keller’s reference to what Martin Luther wrote in his Larger Catechism: “The fundamental motivation behind law breaking is idolatry.”
Our church was looking for some new banner ideas for Lent and Easter. We decided to create two banners—one with an image of a crown of thorns, and another with an empty tomb. Here’s an outline of the process we followed.
Confessions of faith come in many forms, from traditional ecumenical creeds like the Apostles’ Creed to personal testimonies. The following is an exposition on the resurrection and what we believe about that historical event. It is appropriate to use anywhere a typical creed would function in a worship service, but it is especially appropriate for use on Easter Sunday during a service celebrating the resurrection.
Q. I’ve heard that baptism and Lent are supposed to go together, but I don’t know why, and I haven’t noticed any such connections made in my church. Should there be?
We are a church relishing in the resurrection. I like to think that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary who heard the good news of Christ’s resurrection did not simply hurry off to tell this exciting news, but that they danced. “They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him” (Matt. 28:9). How could they have kept still?
This article is the third in a series introducing “Worshiping the Triune God,” a working document published after the inaugural meeting of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) in June 2010. (For parts 1 and 2, see RW 100 and 101.)
If you’ve been anywhere near a computer in the last decade, you’re familiar with the phenomenon called “going viral.” It’s what happens when email inboxes, websites, and social networks light up like postmodern switchboards at the discovery of something new: the video of the cat doing that thing, the unexpected hit single, or that new author nobody’s ever heard of before who’s written something incredible. Suddenly, with unprecedented speed, everybody knows about it.
Historically, Christians have used some verses from the gospel accounts of Jesus’ suffering to figuratively bludgeon Jewish people. But does our awareness of this historical misuse of Scripture make any difference in the way we plan and lead worship, especially during Lent and Holy Week? Can we apply some principles to dealing with those “troubling tellings” while still taking the Scriptures very seriously?
The following service was designed to be part of an arts week at Regent College. The readings were organized by Stacey Gleddiesmith and Robert Lockridge. The service was coordinated by Stacey with help from Aminah Al-Attas Bradford, Robert Lockridge, and Andrea Tischer. Various Regent College students and faculty members contributed their artistic talents for this service as we sought to exegete and communicate the text of Psalm 22 through various art forms.
Call to worship: Spoken prayer 1
What language shall I borrow to thank you,
For this, your dying sorrow, your mercy
Lord, make me yours forever, a loyal servant true,
And let me never, never outlive my love for you.
—Medieval Latin poem
Q We hear a lot about people “giving things up for Lent.” What implications might this practice have for corporate worship?
A Individuals often go without a certain food or activity as a way to make Jesus’ journey toward the cross more prominent in their life. But perhaps congregations could consider similar practices or emphases communally.
The Worshiping Body: The Art of Leading Worship
by Kimberly Bracken Long,
Westminster John Knox Press, 2009. 130 pages.
For this litany David Gambrell took Psalm 22, a traditional psalm for Good Friday, and interspersed it with quotes from The New York Times (Good Friday, March 21, 2008). Consider putting together a similar service using current news articles. You could use two readers—one for the psalm quotes (in italics) and one for the news quotes (roman)—or use many readers by having
different readers for each of the news quotes.
Psalm 22. For the director of music. To the tune of “The Doe of the Morning.” A psalm of David.
Reformed Worship to Celebrate 100th Issue
The staff of RW has been working hard in anticipation of our 100th issue, which marks twenty-five years of sharing worship resources and articles. That issue will be dedicated to the theme of celebration and joy, with resources from the book of Philippians. If you have resources related to any of those topics, please send them to us by December 1, and we will be happy to consider them for inclusion in that issue.
Props and Set
Eleven medium-size rocks, ten on a large black cloth at stage left and one at front, center stage. Metal wheelbarrow at back, center stage. Wooden cross, stage right. Lighted Christ candle on a high table next to Narrator.
Narrator; Person (dressed in black and wearing black gloves); Judas; Jesus; False Witnesses; High Priest; two Servant Girls; Peter; Observer; Pilate; Crowd (can be made up of False Witnesses, two Servant Girls, and Observer); Soldiers
Jesus turned to Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns’” (Matt. 16:23).
When I read that verse, my first response is that I want that kind of wisdom to rightly discern what is not of God. But then Jesus goes on to say to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (v. 24).
As a culture we enjoy a rich verbal component to our worship. We read Scripture, offer praise and petition, listen to sermons, and share our celebrations and concerns. Some of us are more comfortable using words to express our response in worship, while others are more at ease with images (see the article “A Creative Communion” by Eric Nykamp, p. 18.)
This service of Scripture, song, and Supper is intended for use on Good Friday. It is designed to help people walk with Jesus to the cross during his Passion as they hear various passages of Scripture from Luke’s gospel, ideally read by people of various ages. Sections marked TWS are from The Worship Sourcebook, available at www.FaithAliveResources.org.
Call to Worship
A van-load of Southern Baptists from the hills of West Virginia drives 160 miles to meditate on a Stations of the Cross art exhibit—twice? What’s wrong with this picture?
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work (1 Cor. 12:4-6).
Easter Sunday celebrations are one of the high points of our Christian faith and worship. As such the worship planned for this day ought to be particularly festive. While there are many ways to heighten the festivities through visuals and movement, music is of particular importance on this day—especially music that includes trumpet and brass. Gathered below is a compilation of music for your consideration, including commentary about its difficulty level and other helpful information.
*Denotes optional timpani accompaniment.
Symbols, shapes, and colors help us to visually embody the Christ story and spiritual truths of Holy Week. As artists reveal these biblical images through paint, glass, photography, or mixed media, we visually relive Jesus’ last earthly days in Jerusalem. This was the purpose of Trinity’s first arts festival, “A Celebration of Christ-centered Arts,” a two-day event held on Palm Sunday weekend in 2009. The festival was open to the public all day Saturday and on Sunday afternoon. The art also became an engaging part of our Sunday worship service.
While Isaiah 53 was written with the captivity of Israel in mind, its verses contain a prophetic account of the sufferings of Christ, including the design of his sufferings. Jesus suffered for our sins, in our place. This atonement is the only way of salvation. By his sufferings Jesus purchased for us the Spirit and grace of God. We will endure if we love him who has first loved us.
This service was designed to include the following elements:
The following service was part of a Passion Week emphasis in Trinity Western University’s thirty-minute campus chapels in the spring of 2010. Our intent was to “watch and pray” with Jesus: to listen to the prayers of his heart at this most crucial time in his passion, and thus, as the disciples longed to do, be taught to pray. To do this, we interwove Luke’s record of the Gethsemane prayer with the High Priestly prayer in John 17. The overall spirit of the service was contemplative, with lots of room for silence.
The following article, though not typical for Reformed Worship, is well worth spending some time on. Pastors, musicians, and worship planners alike can benefit from considering the pairing of text and tune and the challenges that arise from a plethora of choices. In addition, several denominations are in the process of developing new hymnbooks for congregational song. This series of articles provides a glimpse of some of the detailed discussions that take place when considering the pairing of texts and tunes.
There on the pulpit, my sermon was dead. Again. It was just too much: too heavy, too complicated, too cumbersome. It had given up its Holy Ghost. But I carried it up there to preach anyway. The truth is, after twenty years of preaching, I got lost for a while, and I preached a lot of roadkill.
For the sake of my soul and for the souls of my hearers, I’ve identified three forces from within and without that were killing my sermons before God made me able to breathe life into them again.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Psalm 22, one of the greatest laments in the psalms, begins with this poignant cry of Christ on the cross. The Jews who had gathered at the foot of the cross (whether to mourn or to mock) would have heard these first few lines of the psalm and been led by their theological training to recall the psalm in its entirety. It is as if Jesus spoke the entire psalm as he hung in agony on the cross—proclaiming both his profound identification with a suffering world and the unlikely victory his suffering would produce.
Imagine you are Job. What are you thinking, feeling, and experiencing as you live through the loss of your property and your family? How do you experience the grief and then the questioning of your friends? How do you relate to God?
Imagine you are the centurion watching yet another crucifixion. But this one is different . . . why? How does it feel to be forgiven by the one you have put to death? What do you make of the eerie darkness and the earthquake?
Imagine you are Mary. Your heart is crushed by the sight of your son dying. How do you bear it?
CRC/RCA Hymnal Gets a Name!
Lift Up Your Hearts: Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs is the name of the hymnal to be published by Faith Alive Christian Resources in 2013.
In our planning discussions the term “heart songs” comes up repeatedly. It is our prayer that the songs in this collection will represent the songs that reside in the hearts of people. These heart songs can be confessions, praises, laments, words of adoration, and psalms and contemporary, global, ancient, or hymn-like.
The comforting smell of baking bread may evoke childhood memories of your mother’s kitchen or remind you of leisurely Saturday mornings sitting at the local bakery with the newspaper and a cup of coffee. But few people associate that lovely aroma with church services, even though bread figures prominently in worship.
Saturday night, the night before Easter, about forty-five of us gathered in the dusk in the narthex outside the sanctuary doors. We settled ourselves and began to gather our hearts for worship—a new service—a kind of modified Easter Vigil for us to try. The sanctuary doors opened to reveal a path of light—tiny votive candles perched on the side of each pew—making a pathway of light through the dim and dark sanctuary.
Have you ever dined with a Muslim? Or with a person from South Africa? Ever shared a meal with a homeless person or with the mayor of the town or city where you live? The answers to these deceptively simple questions communicate more about our “social capital” than we might at first expect.
In recent years the term “social capital” has become a buzz phrase with many different definitions. Most of these definitions refer to human relationships within society and distinguish between three different kinds of social capital: bonding, bridging, and linking.
Many churches drape a strip of cloth on the cross in their worship space during Lent. Sometimes a black cloth for Good Friday is changed to a white cloth for Easter. Amazing, isn’t it, how making such a small addition to something we’re so used to seeing can be so noticeable!
The visual presented here builds on this idea but adds a bit of coarseness and texture to your cross, which, if your church is anything like mine, is a finely polished and architecturally appropriate symbol of the blood-stained boards our Savior was hung on.
[During this service, the sanctuary doors will remain closed. The ushers stand outside the doors to encourage people to enter the sanctuary in reverent silence.]
Call to Worship: “Be Still, for the Presence” SNC 11 Stanza 1, sung by soloist
Scripture Reading: selected verses from Psalm 38
The story of Job is the story of a man who lived long ago and far away in the country of Uz. But it is also the story of every person who has ever tried to make sense of undeserved suffering and the seeming absence of God. It’s a powerful story of deep faith in tragic times.
The book of Job challenges our ideas about how life should be lived and who God is. The story seizes us, demands our imagination, and refuses to let go until we have wrestled with the same life-shaping questions that haunt the main character.
It’s no secret that students are attracted to visual media. Images from television, video games, mobile phones, and the Internet saturate their days and nights. They use images to communicate with their friends. They learn with visuals in the classroom. They entertain themselves with pictures and animation.
This Good Friday service focuses on Mark 14-15. As Jesus cries out from the cross, the curtain of the temple tears from top to bottom, opening the way into the Holy of Holies. The service begins with the Old Testament background of the tabernacle and temple and culminates in communion in the most holy presence of God, not just for the High Priest, but for everyone who comes by way of the cross.
What did Jesus mean when he said “It is finished”? This readers’ theater examines the multiple meanings of that phrase. It would work well in any Good Friday service, but is especially appropriate as part of a service on the Last Words of Christ (see RW 14 and 78 for service ideas on the Last Words). —JB
[As readers’ theater begins, a cellist plays “Man of Sorrows” in the background.]
Our worship planning team decided to present the story of Jesus’ betrayal, death, and burial from the perspectives of those who were there. We chose six characters from the passion narratives and asked six people from the congregation to tell their stories. They were encouraged to immerse themselves in their character by reading the Scripture passage and by familiarizing themselves with the dramatic reading—even memorizing it, if they chose.
This service is designed for use on Good Friday, but it would also be appropriate for use throughout the Lenten season. As it stands, the service runs about forty minutes, although it could be lengthened by the addition of extra anthems. We used one reader for the Scripture lessons and different readers for each of the reflections, although it could also be done the other way around. Scripture readings were taken from The Message.
Call to Worship
None of these songs can be called traditional hymns. Three of them are very short—just right for inviting churches (and schools!) to introduce them to children and for repeated use by the congregation during Lent or Eastertide. The other two songs are longer; they’re directly tied to Scripture passages scheduled for Year C in the Revised Common Lectionary that begins with Advent 2009.
Some time before Lent our pastor, Al Van Dellen, announced the theme of his Lenten messages: “Crucified—by My Hand.” The topics were Judas, Nicodemus, Peter, and the Centurion. I immediately thought of the wonderful readings from the drama “We Were There” by Marla Ehlers (see RW 58). We used Ehlers’s portrayals of Judas and Peter on the appropriate Sundays, and I wrote readings for Nicodemus and the Centurion, along with a service plan for the Centurion. I’m hoping others may find these useful!
Celebrating Easter with the Song of Songs may seem to be an unlikely pairing at first. But since we proclaim Christ as the consummate lover of the collective church and the individual soul, what could be more natural?
In our church, two very different things came together to form the idea of a text message worship experience.
First, my fellow high school youth group leaders and I noticed that we spend a lot of time “policing” cell phone use during youth group events. Kids are constantly texting each other, even when they’re sitting just a few feet from each other! Second, we wanted to try making the season of Lent—and particularly Holy Week—more of a focus for our students.
This year I have enjoyed participating in events celebrating John Calvin’s five hundredth birthday in Pittsburgh, Toronto, Grand Rapids, and Montreat. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the keen interest in Calvin’s approach to worship. Here are brief answers to some of the most commonly asked questions I’ve received during these celebrations.
Q What are some of the biggest differences between being a Christian in Geneva in the sixteenth century and being a Christian in North America today?
Sing with the World: Global Songs for Children
Compiled by John L. Bell and Alison Adam. Glasgow: Wild Goose Resource Group, Iona Community, 2008. GIA Publications, Inc., exclusive North American Agent. Spiral song book (G-7339) and CD (CD-771). To order go to www.giamusic.com or call 1-800-442-1358.
Every time our worship planning team faces another major season of the church year, the same nagging worry creeps into the back of our minds: Can we come up with any new creative ideas for this season? You’ve probably been there too (which is why you’re cruising this periodical for ideas, right?).
Every year I stick to my guns and assure the team that all we need to do is open ourselves up to the Holy Spirit, listen with curiosity to the pastor’s ideas for the next sermon or series, and be faithful in collaboration.
The copyright information for the song I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light (RW 89, p. 18) failed to credit Greg Scheer as the arranger. Our apologies to Greg for this oversight.
Several years ago when I was teaching Sunday school for twelve- and thirteen-year-olds, my class was looking for a Palm Sunday reader’s theater to perform for the congregation. We specifically wanted something that would give worshipers an idea of what people along the route were thinking as Jesus entered the city. After checking out several drama websites and not finding anything, I decided to write a reader’s theater script. We have since performed this drama with both children only and adults only. You may use simple costumes or have all the actors dressed in black.
Questions on the Apocrypha
The following e-mail exchange took place between an RW reader and James Payton, the author of the article on using material from the Apocrypha in worship (RW 89, p. 40)
When I was growing up, there was no such thing as Lent—at least not in my church. We did know about Palm Sunday. That was the day the Sunday school kids made palm branches out of paper, though we didn’t do the whole processional with palms that is so common today. And of course we went to church on Good Friday and Easter. But I didn’t hear of Lent, Ash Wednesday, Passion Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and the Easter Vigil until my college years.
“Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit God’s love for them. But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the LORD.’”
“A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” “And now one greater than Jonah is here.”
—Matthew 12:39, 41
I don’t know if your church has a projection system in the sanctuary, but the questions and comments I’ve received suggest that if you don’t already have one, you may soon. Because these systems can be used well or poorly, here are eight basic rules to keep in mind when preparing visual presentations for projection during worship.
In addition to teaching and praise, the psalms can be a great resource for prayer. Those appointed by Year B of the Revised Common Lectionary lend themselves particularly well to that. What follows are examples of the psalms for Year B used as building blocks for prayers of the people for Lenten Sundays.
One of the unique things about this Good Friday service is the interweaving of Psalm 22 throughout the account of the crucifixion. By quoting the first verse of this psalm while he was dying on the cross, Jesus was really pointing to the message of the whole psalm. Notice the movement in the psalm from a cry of despair—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”—
to a proclamation of praise—“He has done it!” —JB
The Revised Common Lectionary offers a three-year plan of Scripture readings (Years A, B, and C). The Lectionary does this so that once every three years, public worship services can include readings from every book of the Bible.
Every few years it happens, often around Easter. Questions about the life and ministry of Jesus are still so interesting to so many people that one, two, or even three of the major weekly newsmagazines in America will run cover stories about him. Few celebrities get their faces on the covers of such magazines all in the same week. Yet centuries after his death and resurrection, Jesus still generates a lot of press—not only for what he did or said but for the core question of who he is.
Easter Sunday is usually the day churches are as full as they ever get. So it’s a great opportunity to express the good news of Christ’s resurrection in a powerful way. This dramatic Easter presentation has a strong scriptural foundation and it engages worshipers in a creative, participatory manner. You can and should adapt it to suit your sanctuary and congregation, using, for example, more or fewer volunteers or different symbols. We’ve used this format both as a sunrise/Sonrise service and at the regular worship hour.
For a mid-sized city with a thriving downtown arts scene, the annual Celebration of the Arts in Grand Rapids, Michigan, may seem like just one more art show on a busy cultural calendar. But art lovers are often taken aback when they learn who’s behind this event. The Celebration is entirely hosted, promoted, and run by a church—First United Methodist Church, a Gothic church building on Fulton Street in the heart of the city.
One ordinary Sunday morning, I sat in my pew praying customary words of confession and hearing familiar words of assurance. My pastor announced, as he did every Sunday, “God assures us with these words of pardon . . .” But at that moment, the words surprised me. Immediately, I turned to my wife and whispered excitedly, “Pardon! That’s an image of the atonement!”
Praise him with the sound of the trumpet:
praise him with the psaltery and harp.
Praise him with the timbrel and dance:
praise him with stringed instruments and organs.
Praise him upon the loud cymbals:
praise him upon the high sounding cymbals.
—Psalm 150:3-5, KJV
Music and weddings go together hand in hand—in fact, music gives voice to the celebration in ways no other medium can! While the church considers weddings to be private family events, the gathered guests, who function as the congregation, can and should have opportunity to praise God joyously, pray for the bride and groom’s new life together, and encourage them with Scripture. Much of this can happen in song!
Q Some people in our church want to sing more psalms. I often respond by saying that we sing songs with verses from the psalms all of the time. Why doesn’t this satisfy them?
by Karl Barth, trans. David Carl Stassen. Westminster John Knox, 2008. 80 pages.
Karl Barth was one of the most profound and challenging Protestant theologians of the twentieth century. He devastatingly critiqued the liberal theology of his day and inaugurated a counter-movement that came to be known as “neoorthodoxy,” forcing the theological world of Europe and North America to consider anew what it would mean to take a sovereign God seriously and respond to him in the present day.
Solid. According to an online dictionary, solid means, among other things, “being of a substantial character; not superficial, trifling, or frivolous; real or genuine; sober-minded; fully reliable or sensible.” Solid—it’s a good word; a solid word.
It’s about halfway through the Sunday morning service, and Pastor Tim is standing at the communion table holding a loaf of bread in his hands. He is about to bless the bread, break it, and share it with God’s people. He is feeding the flock of God.
Earlier in the service he fed the congregation by reading and expounding on God’s Word. After that he invited them into prayer for the church and the world. Word, prayer, and meal—these are food for the flock, means of grace. And they are the place where pastoral care begins.
The handbell choir may be the ultimate expression of music-making as a community of believers. The ensemble cannot function without each individual; at the same time, the contribution of each individual is meaningless apart from the whole. This reality, however, makes supporting a handbell choir difficult for churches that simply cannot enlist enough qualified ringers to rehearse on a regular basis.
Lord’s Supper Responses from Readers
Previous issues of RW invited readers to share reflections of their participation in the Lord’s Supper as well as creative expressions of the teaching related to the Lord’s Supper. Included below are some reader responses. Please continue to send us your thoughts and creative ideas in anticipation of RW 88, a theme issue on the Lord’s Supper.
The service of Tenebrae, meaning “darkness” or “shadows,” has been practiced by the church since medieval times. Once a service for the monastic community, Tenebrae later became an important part of the worship of the common folk during Holy Week. We join Christians of many generations throughout the world in using the liturgy of Tenebrae.
Tenth Anniversary of CICW
The staff of Reformed Worship would like to congratulate our ministry partner the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship on the occasion of its tenth anniversary. We are very grateful for the way God has used the CICW to promote a healthy dialogue and practice of worship, and we’re grateful for its ongoing support of Reformed Worship.
This service presents a dramatic reading of Matthew 26 and 27 with an introduction from Matthew 21. A narrator reads all the sections that tie the dialogue together. Songs are used at the end of each logical sequence to bridge to the next section.
Good Friday is a day of confrontation, a day when the forces of hatred and evil tried their best, or rather, their worst, to destroy Jesus. This is no “warm fuzzy” worship service. Instead it dramatically challenges participants to experience the reality of Christ’s crucifixion through all five senses, so the significance of Christ’s sacrifice is not only understood but felt. Here we acknowledge the ugliness of sin and our own participation, through our sins, in Christ’s death. We are there when they crucify our Lord.
Lent begins in dust and ash: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.” Many an Ash Wednesday I have left worship and gone into grocery stores or ridden public transportation with ashes on my forehead. When I next glance at myself in a restroom mirror, I quickly wipe off the smudge. The dust is met with water and washes clean away.
This column has addressed the “cross/screen” dilemma once before (“There’s an Elephant in Our Sanctuary,” RW 79). Here you’ll find another proposed solution to the problem.
An artist I worked with some time ago said he would never include a cross in his art in any form. It was simply too powerful a symbol for him. At the time, I didn’t know how to respond. His reverence humbled me and changed the way I think about this most-recognized symbol.
This liturgy has three movements: confession, assurance, and rededication. It’s as though the reconciliation part of worship that is common in many Reformed churches is magnified to encompass the entire service.
Because I refer to him in the meditation, I used Saint Augustine’s words about finding rest in God as the opening sentences. This theme is immediately picked up again in the gathering hymn, especially in stanza 4. Another
communion hymn that echoes this theme is “In the Quiet Consecration” (PsH 302).
This sunrise service began with contemplative instrumental music. Because the service was held indoors, a picture of a sunrise was projected on the screen before the service and during each of the prayer/reading segments. Parts for Reader 1 were adapted from an Easter prayer titled “Lord God, Early in the Morning,” from Stages on the Way by John L. Bell and Wild Goose Worship Group © 2000, GIA Publications, Inc. p. 184)
Call to Worship: “Come into His Presence” CH 420, SNC 3, SFL 4, WR 119
This is the second of a two-part series on the church year. Part 1 presented a general context for the use of the church year and a brief introduction to the Christmas cycle. This installment will discuss the Easter cycle—the most ancient of the church’s celebrations—as well as the twentieth-century developments that have pointed us back toward this useful tool for telling the good news.
The three songs presented here are taken from the soon-to-be-released collection Singing the New Testament—a wonderful new resource based on texts from Matthew to Revelation and jointly published by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and Faith Alive Christian Resources. In RW 85 we introduced three Advent and Christmas songs from this collection. Here are three more songs: two from the gospels and one from Romans 8.
This is the second in a series of articles about encouraging faith formation in your congregation’s worship.
You may be wondering why we chose to profile Mars Hill Bible Church, since usually we profile churches within the Reformed tradition. Mars Hill, led by Rob Bell, has a national reputation for being a growing, leading-edge church. While many churches are grappling with the seeming exodus of their young adults, Mars Hill and churches like it are attracting young adults in droves. That led me to wonder what it was about Mars Hill that appealed to young adults, and what we can learn from that church.
In RW 85, Corwin Smidt wrote an article on politics and worship from a United States perspective (“Pulpit Politics: Are They Oil and Water?” RW 85). This time we’ve invited a couple of Canadians to give their perspective on the same topic.
God sees the plight of refugees. He hates the injustice that leads to their displacement from home and country. The church, called to emulate God’s character, must also care about the hardships of refugees. One way to do so is to incorporate into a worship service a celebration of God’s just character and a call to care for refugees by performing this drama.
Q My cousin’s church now celebrates communion early in the service before the kids leave for children’s church. Is there anything wrong with that? Wouldn’t that be a good plan for those of us hoping to incorporate children more fully in the sacrament?
In his fine book The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen describes how and when he first saw Rembrandt’s painting by that title:
Publishing is a strange thing. As I write this editorial it is the end of August. I have survived the heat wave that made its way across the United States and parts of Canada and I am enjoying the cooler temperatures. But when this issue is released it will be November. I can’t help wondering what the world will be like in three months. Will the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah be over? What will be going on in Iraq? How much will gasoline cost?
This chapel service was presented on Maundy Thursday at Unity Christian High School, Hudsonville, Michigan. The service was designed to present a continuation of the Christmas celebration into Holy Week. We wanted students to reflect on the truth of Christmas, that Jesus was born ultimately to die for us. We also wanted students to see the reality of the world into which Jesus was born—a world filled with sin and in desperate need of redemption. The dramatic reading reveals the depth of God’s grace—allowing his only Son to come into a world of darkness and death.
“Why is light given to one in misery,
and life to the bitter in soul,
who long for death, but it does not come,
and dig for it more than for hidden treasures;
who rejoice exceedingly,
and are glad when they find the grave?”
Our worship planning team sat around the table, discouraged by the personal suffering and global disasters surrounding us. As we thought about ministering to these needs, we were reminded that God uses suffering to refine our character. What better time than Lent to reflect upon our own hardships in light of Christ’s work on the cross?
A familiar feature of Advent and Christmas worship both at home and in church is the Advent wreath. Each Sunday of Advent another candle is lit, culminating in the lighting of the Christ Candle on Christmas Day.
Less familiar to many is the Lenten triad—an adaptation of the Advent wreath that can also be incorporated into individual or family devotions or used in congregational worship.
Eyes to See
Do you ever remember a time, walking in the woods or just looking out your kitchen window, when you saw the sun’s rays filter through the mist, casting a shadow between the branches of a pine tree? And you sensed hope in and through that light?
Do you remember a worship service when, just for a moment, passing the peace became more than a chore and you looked at your neighbor more clearly? And you sensed awe and delight in and through another’s eyes?
Even here, people come for a church service,” says Pastor Rob Knol, standing at the back of the gym of the Boys and Girls Club in Valparaiso, Indiana, where Daybreak Community Church has just completed its worship service.
Lent is a time for reflection on the Passion of Christ as well as on our own lives. As the visual ministry team at St. Timothy, our challenge was to bring the Passion of Christ to our congregation in a tangible, intimate, visual way. We also wanted the message of the Passion to progress weekly, reminding the congregation of the previous week’s message without taking away from the message of the day.
Though written from the perspective of Reformed churches that have Dutch roots, the challenges and suggestions found in this article are helpful across denominations.
Lift up your hearts!” “We lift them up to the Lord!”
This service was designed to be a full service of Word and sacrament. It was also designed to allow worshipers to share in the intimacy Jesus experienced with his disciples through foot washing and during the meal in the hours prior to his arrest and crucifixion.
Instead of using our more formal communion setting, we used two long, narrow handmade wooden tables that were placed in the space between the chancel and the front pews on either side of the center aisle. Each table was surrounded with chairs and set with a homespun cloth and baskets of grapes and bread.
The following service was planned by David Rylaarsdam for the profession of faith of his 10-year-old son, Andrew. The service clearly connects profession of faith with baptism and uses the font, pulpit, and table to lead Andrew through his profession of faith.
Song: “Be Still, for the Presence” SNC 11
Call to Worship (from RW 27:42)
We Celebrate Creation
God looked into emptiness and created all that is.
God spread out the earth in its diversity
with mountains and valleys, rivers and fertile plains.
There were patches of flood and fire,
of dryness and of vivid green,
embraced by the wind and sea,
a sun-filled landscape of hospitality.
And threading through it all, like weavings of golden hope,
were dreams of justice and compassion
and gentle streams of peace.
God gathers all repentant people into communion,
It is perhaps a sign of the times that I have recently received many questions about worship and politics. We live in an era of divided loyalties and deeply polarized rhetoric on many political issues. As I approach these questions, I am convinced that one of the worst things that can happen to worship is that it becomes politicized in ways that obscure the themes of God’s glory, the gospel of Jesus, and the work of the Spirit. In the United States, newspapers regularly offer us accounts of this happening in congregations on both ends of the political spectrum.
The three songs chosen for this Lent/Easter issue are all directly taken from Scripture or based closely on it. One is very short; you might call it a refrain. One is in a traditional hymn structure with a refrain, and one follows a more contemporary structure, also with a refrain.
This drama was designed to be presented by two middle-school age boys as an introduction to the season of Lent. It was submitted by Tom Vos, pastor of First Christian Reformed Church, Wellsburg, Iowa .
David: Hi, Tom! What’ve you been doing?
Tom: Hey, David! I’m all about basketball right now. You too?
David: Yeah, it’s real exciting: all the games—girls’ and boys’ tournaments, the Big Ten . . .
In this article Matteuci argues that Christian worship ought not to reflect some key aspects of North American culture. Matteucci reminds us that, regardless of our geographical location, the church is called to be in the world but not of it.
American culture is driven and saturated by mass media. Opinion polls and election results reveal a culture deeply divided over political and moral issues, but this divide is rarely found in news reports, movies, or television programs aired on American media outlets.
This service was submitted by Philip Stel, pastor of First Christian Reformed Church, Lansing, Illinois. It was a joint service of three churches: Bethel Christian Reformed Church and First Christian Reformed Church of Lansing, Illinois, and Munster Christian Reformed Church, Munster, Indiana.
Processional and Scripture Readings
The Altar of Incense Prayer: Exodus 30:1-8
“Old Testament” Prayer: Luke 1:8-10; Psalm 141:1-2
The Substance of Things Seen: Art, Faith, and the Christian Community
by Robin M. Jensen.
Eerdmans Publishing, 2004.
This book is part of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship Liturgical Studies Series published by Eerdmans. The series is designed to promote reflection on the history, theology, and practice of Christian worship and to stimulate worship renewal in Christian congregations.
How do we use children’s art in worship without the result looking like the local grocery store coloring contest? You know—the ones where the same Easter Bunny is colored a thousand different ways, all of the entries are pasted on the wall, and the winners just happen to be from predetermined age groups and convenient regional representations of the town/city/state/province.
I think we can improve on this idea and incorporate the Crayola contributions of our kids into worship—with dignity!
Letters and E-mails
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RW ’s newly redesigned website features thousands of worship planning resources at your fingertips. Log on to access more than 1,700 articles on planning and leading worship from every RW issue since 1986. That’s twenty years’ worth of litanies, meditations, dramas, and other resources.
Seven pod groups from Grace United Church began meeting in June 2003 to plan worship services for Lent 2004 (for more on pods see RW 75). The theme for the season was “Covenants.”