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).
After reading Psalm 32, I posed two questions to the congregation, asking them to discuss them in several small groups for a few minutes and then share their insights with the entire body. I invite congregational discussion from time to time, finding that the message is more memorable when people interact with the material. Perhaps this is one of the blessings of being part of a small church that would be more difficult to do in a meaningful way in a large church.
Following the meditation, we sang David T. Koyzis’s versification of Psalm 32 to the Genevan melody (available online at genevanpsalter.redeemer.ca/ psalm_texts.htm). After the pianist played it through once, two leaders helped us sing it a cappella; we have a number of seniors with a Dutch background in the congregation for whom the melody came quite easily.
The liturgy for the Lord’s Supper comes from the Christian Reformed Church’s 1994 form (available online at http://www.crcna.org/pages/1994_supper.cfm and on p. 16 in this issue). The quotations from Psalms 34 and 116 were spoken immediately before the partaking of communion.
Picking up on the custom of giving up things for Lent and spending the time in prayer and/or focusing on Christ’s sacrifice, I encouraged the congregation to think carefully about what they choose to fast from and feast on with the words of “Fast and Feast During Lent,” a poem that was given to me by a member of the congregation. It can be read by a pastor or by another reader.
The parting hymn and blessing echo the forgiveness promised in Psalm 32 and celebrated in the sacrament. The descending notes of the two-fold Amen (PsH 214) seemed an appropriate way to conclude a Lenten service.
How familiar are you with Psalm 32? When was the last time you read it? Apparently Saint Augustine had the words of this psalm inscribed on the wall above his bed so he would read this call to confession daily. He wanted to make the psalmist’s words his words.
In today’s church, confession is going out of style. Worship leaders are afraid it will make churchgoers feel unnecessarily bad about themselves and that it may frighten away seekers to whom we want to be sensitive. My colleague Craig Hoekema counters this fear by stating boldly: “If the service of confession is avoided due to a fear of turning away those who are newly approaching the church, then why should these people even come? If we are not exposing to seekers (and ourselves) our deepest need for Christ and for renewal in worship, then why are they there?” (Kerux, 21 Oct. 2004). Becoming more familiar with Psalm 32 is a way to more deeply appreciate our need to confess and the gift of forgiveness through Jesus.
Forgiveness is the high point of this psalm, indeed of the life of the psalmist David. Forgiveness—the result of his confession—removes David’s burden. There is a definite shift beginning at verse 5: “Then I acknowledged my sin to you . . . and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” Robert Davidson speaks of how in David’s experience, “release only came through acknowledging to God the wrong within him” (The Vitality of Worship: A Commentary on the Book of Psalms). Then the heaviness and weariness of the opening verses give way to joy and praise.
At the Lord’s Supper table, we find ourselves at the selah, the gap between verses 4 and 5. Weighed down by our sin, God invites us to confess . . . and then experience—even taste!—his merciful forgiveness. In this meal the Holy Spirit makes real to us how the blood of Christ shed on the cross covers our iniquity and we are reconciled to God. What relief! Let’s rejoice in the Lord with David.
O Lord, Thou hast made us,
and our spirits are restless until we find rest in Thee.
Gathering Hymn: “O Jesus, Joy of Loving Hearts” PsH 307
Prayer of Adoration
O Christ, Savior, like the seed fallen to the ground
you suffered death.
United to you, our lives will bear much fruit.
We praise you, Lord.
O Christ, you went down to the lowest point of the human condition;
you remain close to all who are abandoned.
We praise you, Lord.
In your love, you took upon yourself our sins;
innocent, you accepted death to free us from death.
We praise you, Lord.
By your love you conquered evil and hatred,
and you live forever at the Father’s side.
We praise you, Lord.
You listen to us in your goodness, and you visit us in our misfortune;
fill our hearts to overflowing by revealing to us the light of your face.
We praise you, Lord. Amen.
—Worship Sourcebook J.1.4.1
Lenten Hymn: “What Wondrous Love” CH 314, PH 85, PsH 379,
TH 261, WR 257
Scripture Reading: Psalm 32
Prayer of Response
God of compassion,
you are slow to anger and full of mercy,
welcoming sinners who return to you with penitent hearts.
Receive in your loving embrace
all who come home to you.
Seat them at your bountiful table of grace,
that, with all your children,
they may feast with delight
on all that satisfies the hungry heart.
We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen.
—Worship Sourcebook J.2.2.6
Psalm: “How Blest the One Whose Trespass Is Forgiven,”
Genevan Psalter 32, versification © 2006 by David T. Koyzis
Celebration of the Lord’s Supper (liturgy available on p. 16 in this issue)
Psalm of Response: “O Come, My Soul, Sing Praise to God” (Psalm 103) PsH 297, st. 1-2
God’s will for our lives: “Fast and Feast During Lent”
Fast from discontent; feast on gratitude.
Fast from anger; feast on patience.
Fast from worry; feast on faith.
Fast from complaining; feast on appreciation.
Fast from bitterness; feast on forgiveness.
Fast from self-centeredness; feast on compassion for others.
Fast from lethargy; feast on enthusiasm.
Fast from emphasis on differences; feast on recognizing unity.
Fast from unsettling anxiety; feast on inner peace.
Fast from half-heartedness; feast on commitment.
—Author and source unknown
Hymn of Dedication: “Spirit of God, Who Dwells within My Heart” (PsH 419, st. 1-2, with a newly written versification of Ps. 51:13 by Stanley J. Groothof):
Help me to teach your righteous love to all;
open my lips and I’ll declare your praise.
Then those who hear will answer to your call;
sinners will turn to you for all their days.
Parting hymn: “O Christ, Our Lord, Dear Son of God” PsH 372
God’s Blessing: Galatians 1:2-5
Doxology: Twofold “Amen” PsH 214