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Songs from Iona

According to the Iona community’s Wild Goose Worship Group, Lent, Holy Week, and Easter “are marked by a series of progressions.” As Christ walked a path marked by suffering and unparalleled victory, so believers follow in his steps—“through fear to courage, from private suspicion to public testimony, from a scattered band of loners and losers to a tightly knit community of faith” (Stages on the Way: Worship Resources for Lent, Holy Week & Easter, p. 11).

Consider using the following songs in order to enable your band of worshipers to take a similar journey this year. Some of these progressions could happen within a service; some should happen throughout the season. “Lord, to Whom Shall We Go?” provides the starting point. Lenten worship begins by turning to the Word of Life. “Lamb of God” enables worshipers to confess both their sinfulness as well as their hope for deliverance. “We Cannot Measure How You Heal” is a continued plea for further healing in multiple ways. Having experienced healing forgiveness to some measure, God’s people may gather around the Table with the sweet Sanctus, “Santo, santo, santo, mi corazon/Holy, Holy, Holy, My Heart.” Finally, Christ’s ragamuffin band of followers hear “The Summons”—from worship into service, from one manner of liturgy to another.

You’ll find all of these songs in Sing! A New Creation (Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2001), the new contemporary supplement copublished by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Faith Alive Christian Resources of CRC Publications, and the Reformed Church Press. The following commentary is taken from the Leader’s Edition scheduled for release early in 2002.

Lord, to Whom Shall We Go?

Click to listen  [ melody ]

Text

Christians continually need to have their lives redirected toward God. Peter confesses: “Lord . . . you have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). Psalm 119, too, is about re-orienting one’s heart and feet: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (v. 105). Singing and praying these texts together identifies a common Godward direction for both Old and New Testament sojourners.

Music

This calm piece asks for God to illumine our hearts, and it acknowledges that God provides words for eternal living. Sing at a moderate pace—perhaps q = 76. Keyboard accompaniment is fine, but it is best sung unaccompanied. The melody is simple enough to teach in minutes—without printed music. Everyone could sing this short refrain, but the simplest and best way would be to have one person sing the question each time, with everyone responding with the second part. If part-singing is desired (as provided in the Leader’s Edition), an ensemble can learn the parts, sing the question, and support the congregation on the second part.

Ideas for Use
  • As a refrain for this portion of Psalm 119, perhaps with different readers on each section of the verses.
  • As a Prayer for Illumination before Scripture reading and sermon, perhaps for an entire season, using different verses of Psalm 119 each week, so people would learn the refrain by heart and not even need to turn to the music.
  • Refrain only, as a musical response during prayers of intercession.
Source

The Iona community, realizing that labels such as “chant” or “chorus” may alienate various groups of people, simply calls this refrain a “shorter song for worship.”

Scripture

John 6:68; Psalm 119

Lamb of God - Agnus Dei

Click to listen  [ melody | full ]

Text

This ancient liturgical text, known in Latin as the Agnus Dei, is a prayer for mercy and peace based on John 1:29. This text has been a regular part of the liturgy of the Lord’s Supper in many churches for more than a thousand years.

Music

This tune, with its step-like progression, is very accessible, especially since a cantor or soloist leads and can cue the congregation after one measure. Sing quietly but with strength to bring out both confession and petition. Feel in two h = 60, and keep the tempo steady, not slowing down even on the ending. It is best sung unaccompanied.

Ideas for Use
  • During Communion.
  • As (part of ) a Prayer of Confession, especially during Lent.
Source

The Iona community treasures traditional liturgical texts, knowing that they are tested, biblical, and ecumenical. At the same time, the community values new musical interpretations of these texts in order to enable authentic expression by contemporary believers. This fresh treatment of the Agnus Dei has become one of their best-known and -used settings.

Scripture

John 1:29

We Cannot Measure How You Heal

Click to listen  [ melody ]

Text

This text expresses a combination of boldness and humility. Stanza 1 references Christ’s bloodied hands and appeals to God as a fellow-sufferer, yet recognizes our own ignorance. Stanza 2 acknowledges both our need for healing and the love that heals. Stanza 3 allows worshipers confidently to “come as they are” before the triune God (Shaper, Savior, and Spirit).

Music

This tune is a traditional Scottish folk melody—it nearly sings itself. The tone should be free enough to express, communally, both the faith and doubt in the text. Feel it in one beat per bar (qk = 66). The third phrase (mm. 17-24) is a bit tricky; sing lightly to keep it from sounding repetitive.

Emphasize the key words (for example, cross is more weighty than the) and keep in mind that the phrase crests at the D in m. 23—that is, the repeating triads have a goal. Use keyboard and/or organ for accompaniment. An optional I-iv-IV-V7 turnaround between stanzas works well.

Given that this is a communal folk tune, introduce it by gently building it up in order to give everyone gathered the sense of joining something worth singing. Here is one option:

Stanza 1: soloist and guitar
Stanza 2: small ensemble and piano
Stanza 3: full congregation, with solo instrument on melody

Ideas for Use
  • For a healing service.
  • As part of an intercessory prayer.
  • In situations of distressing news.
  • For a funeral.
Source

This song comes from John L. Bell and Graham Maule of the Iona Community. The words were sung after sixteen school children and their teacher were killed by a gunman in Dunblane, Scotland, in 1996.

Santo, Santo, Santo, mi corazon/Holy, Holy, Holy, My Heart

Click to listen  [ melody ]

Text

This song begins like the classic Sanctus, with its three-time repetition of the word holy based on Isaiah 6:3, but then moves into a personal prayer of adoration. The text is simple and can be sung in many languages. This practice broadens the conception of “heart” to be more corporate and universal.

Music

God’s holiness causes both holy fear and holy attraction; the latter is at work here. The tone is passionate and intimate, as if sharing and savoring words with a treasured friend. Play with a slow, lilting feel q = 60-76. Be flexible enough to stretch the tempo to reach and fully enjoy the octave leaps and the keyboard arpeggios. The keyboard accompaniment could simply double the vocal parts, or be quietly improvisatory as provided. A solo piano would serve well, or a pair of guitarists, one laying a bed of eighth notes (arpeggios), while the other plucks the melody.

Ideas for Use
  • As a simple song of adoration, perhaps humming one time through after singing one or more stanzas.
  • As a prayer response, after the Lord’s Prayer, for example.
  • During the Lord’s Supper, in place of or in addition to a traditional Sanctus text.
  • During a Pentecost service, singing in all the languages to testify to the universal character of the church.
Source

The first stanza is anonymous; a revised stanza was created in English for Sing! A New Creation and was also the basis for the stanzas in Dutch, French, and Korean. The accompaniment was provided by Jorge Lockward, who worked closely with the Sing! committee on all the Hispanic songs (he was interviewed in RW 53).

Will You Come and Follow Me

Click to listen  [ melody ]

Text

This text also known as "The Summons," is striking in its forthrightness and its recollection of the biblical "call" texts. Here the tone seems to suggest Jesus calling disciples (Mark 1:16-20). To highlight the dialogic nature, have a soloist sing the first four stanzas, and have the whole congregation respond with stanza 5. This also supplies a ready-made method for teaching the song.

If singing selected stanzas, always include stanza 5.

Music

This traditional Scottish fold melody is easily learned. (Only the melody is provided here for reasons of space.) Sing the first four stanzas with intensity, the last with courage, even bordering on boisterousness. Though in triple meter, feel in one beat per measure halfnote= 80. If you can, have a choir hum behind the soloist for the first four stanzas, with accompanying instruments entering on stanza 5. Whatever accompaniment you use, it needs to be simple; supporting, but not overpowering, the melody. A fingerpicked guitar, and organ on flute stops,or a piano with a gentle arpeggio would be appropriate. A flute player might also double the melody in stanzas 1-4, while improvising a descant in the final stanza. A choral version with congregational participation is available in the God Never Sleeps collection from GIA Publications (G-4384).

Ideas for Use
  • In services of commitment or dedication, especially when the scriptural theme emphasizes the radical demand of the Lord's call.
  • At the close of worship as a "call to services."
  • On the first four stanzas, place four soloists (different ages, gender, race, calling) in four areas of the worship space, to indicate that God's summons comes from various places and in various ways.
Source

A minister in the Church of Scotland, John L. Bell is a member of the Iona Community. Bell works with the Wild Goose Worship Group to create hymns and worship songs, and travels the world as a workshop leader. He set this hymn to KELVINGROVE, a Scottish traditional tune.

Scripture

Matthew 16:24