WHILE IT WAS STILL DARK
John 20:1-18; Acts 10:34-43
In the movie Before and After, a young girl reflects on a murder that she says divided her family's life into "before" and "after." Nicholas Wolterstorff makes a similar observation in his book Lament for a Son. About his son's death he writes:
The world looks different now.... Something is over. In the deepest levels of my existence something is finished, done. My life is divided into before and after (p. 46).
John's gospel tells us that "early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance" (v. 1). Mary does not yet know that something has happened that has made life altogether different. For her it is still dark, this world is still the place where all the living can do is bring spices to lessen the stench of death.
John and Peter also remain in the dark. They stand in the empty tomb dumbfounded, unaware that life has entered a wholly new phase. All they see are the scraps of fabric; they believe with Mary that some scoundrel has made off with Jesus' body. In fact, John tells us straight out, they still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.
The most obvious reason for their unbelief is realism. The fact is that once death has someone in its clutches, its stranglehold is permanent. We all know this. The dead stay dead. Not one casket lowered into this grave-littered planet is rented. Death plays for keeps.
In the face of death, the world's advice is for us to grow up and become adults. Be realistic, it says. Adjust to death. You gather your posies, you snatch your pleasures, but always there is death standing behind you and whispering, "Save the last dance for me."
The two disciples leave the tomb frustrated and confused, their realism holding fast. Mary stays. Left alone at the tomb she continues the "adjustment." Sobbing, she stumbles to her knees and catches a glimpse inside the tomb. What was empty she finds occupied by two figures in white, one of whom asks the question, "Woman, why are you crying?" It is a surprising thing to ask; after all, crying is the code of conduct in graveyards.
Mary responds as before, "They have taken my Lord away."
The writer notes no response from the angels before Mary turns. There stands another figure, as much a stranger in Mary's eyes as the two reclining inside. This one also asks, "Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?"
Under the influence of realism, she thinks it's the gardener, and she hopes that maybe he can end this agony, maybe point her to another tomb. "Sir," she says, "if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him." Of course, in this most wonderful scene, he doesn't answer the question. He simply calls her by name, "Mary," and thereby reveals his own identity.
"Rabboni (Teacher)!" she cries, and she falls at his feet to embrace him with all the passionate feeling she possesses. Again we must not suppose that Mary fully sees that it's over, that she is living in the after. Jesus has to tell her in effect, "Mary, let go of me. We cannot return to the days before. Things are different now. And you are to tell the disciples that I will ascend to your Father and my Father, to my God and your God."
Mary does as Jesus commands. She lets go and returns to the disciples. "I have seen the Lord!" she shouts. The cry heralds that life is now divided into before and after. When God raised Jesus from the grave, he split our history in two.
We celebrate Easter to tell all the world: "Death has lost its hold on us. The last dance belongs to Christ. Things have changed. We are living in the after." Jesus is a death-conqueror.
Still the darkness holds.
To sustain the conviction that we are living in the after while it is still dark, we gather on Sunday. Christ appeared to the disciples on that day; he made himself known to them in the breaking of bread. In our gatherings we pray for Christ's presence—that he will speak to us through Word and Spirit—and for eyes that will recognize him in the breaking of bread.
In the book Sleeping with Bread, the authors tell us that during the bombing raids of World War II, thousands of children were orphaned and left to starve. The fortunate ones were rescued and placed in refugee camps, where they received food and good care. But many of these children who had lost so much could not sleep at night. They feared waking up to find themselves once again homeless and hungry. Nothing seemed to reassure them. Finally, someone came upon the idea of giving each child a piece of bread to hold at bedtime. Holding their bread, these children could finally sleep in peace. All through the night the bread reminded them, "Today I ate, and I will eat again tomorrow."
Christ's resurrection is our loaf of bread. We still bring fathers and mothers to the grave—and sometimes even sons and daughters. It is still dark. Yet with bread in hand we live in the confidence that "just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven" (1 Cor. 15:4, NRSV).
Minister: Let us join together in love, and with one heart and one voice confess the faith of the church at all times and in all places.
People: The Nicene Creed
WHEN THE DAY OF PENTECOST CAME
Genesis 11:1-9; Acts 2:1-21
On Pentecost Sunday does the silence of this worship hour trouble you? There is no sound as of a rushing wind, no tongues of fire. Perhaps, as I once heard it explained, it's like plumbing. The plumber shuts the main valve, empties the pipes of water, and does his repairs. When he opens the valve again, water rushes in with a great noise, the pipes rattle and shake, you fear the whole house may come down. Then when all the pipes are full, the quiet returns, and the water is as near as a turn of the faucet. Though all is quiet, the Holy Spirit is as near as the water in the pipes, as air in our lungs.
In the book of Acts, the coming of the Holy Spirit is accompanied by three supernatural signs: a sound like that of a rushing wind, the sight of what seemed to be tongues of fire, and the speaking in other tongues.
Each tells us something about the nature and work of the Holy Spirit. The sound like a violent wind from heaven tells us that the presence of the Spirit communicates life and power. It is a power that enables us to see the truth about Jesus Christ. Until the day of Pentecost the disciples had been looking at Jesus from the outside, as you might look from the outside at the stained-glass windows in a great cathedral. They appear mute, dead. They have nothing to say. But on Pentecost the disciples began seeing Jesus from the inside, and, like the windows of a cathedral seen from the inside, with light streaming through them, they became alive and glorious. Once Peter had the Spirit, he could not stop talking about the way God had exalted Jesus Christ. Pentecost is the power that moves us inside Jesus, and when that happens, we are energized.
Then, second, "they saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them" (v. 3). John Stott explains that the fire symbolized purity, sanctity. The Holy Spirit brings about holiness, not in a narrow legal sense, but in the breath-taking sense of living lives that share in the life and character of God. We are often told that the two characteristics of a revival are an increased emphasis on prayer and a deep repentance that involves both sorrow for sin and an enthusiasm for holiness. Both speak of a renewed communion. Because of the Holy Spirit we are linked to God. We enter a divine fellowship.
And finally, when they were filled with the Holy Spirit, people heard them speaking in other tongues (v. 4). The miracle of speech stresses the universality of the gospel. It is for all people. On that Pentecost day in Jerusalem, the whole world was present, and the disciples were sent into all the world. It is Babel reversed. With the saints we sing
"You are worthy . . . for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation" (Rev. 5: 9).
Pentecost is the culmination of Easter. The almighty and everlasting God fulfilled the Easter promise by sending the Holy Spirit. His coming anticipates the end; God is at home among us. "He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his people, and God himself will be with them..." (Rev. 21:3).
When we gather around the table, we show that we are at home with God and that God is at home with us. This is the work of the Holy Spirit.
There is a scene in the book Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler that captures our table fellowship together:
Nat said, "Do any of you know the photographs ofC. R. Savage?"
The grown-ups turned courteous, receptive faces in his direction.
"A nineteenth-century fellow," he said. "Used the old wet-plate method, I would suppose. There's a picture I'm reminded of that he took toward the end of his life. Shows his dining room table set for Christmas dinner. Savage himself sitting amongst the empty chairs, waiting for his family. Chair after chair after chair, silverware laid just so, even a baby's high chair, all in readiness. And I can't help thinking, when I look at that photo, I bet that's as good as it got, that day. From there on out, it was all downhill, I bet. Actual sons and daughters arrived, and they quarreled over the drumsticks and sniped at their children's table manners and brought up hurtful incidents from fifteen years before; and the baby had this whimper that gave everybody a headache. Only just for that moment," Nat said, and his voice took on a tremor, "just as the shutter was clicking, none of that had happened yet, you see, and the table looked so beautiful, like someone's dream of a table, and old Savage felt so happy and so—what's the word I want, so ... "
But now his voice failed him completely, and he covered his eyes with one shaking hand and bent
his head. "So anticipatory!" he whispered into his plate... (pp. 320-321).
Communion on this Pentecost day is so anticipatory.
Affirmation of Faith
Leader: As servants of Jesus Christ,
we declare with joy and trust:
Our world belongs to God!
God reigns! Let the earth be glad!
Christ is Victor; his rule has begun. Hallelujah!
The Spirit is at work, renewing the creation.
Praise the Lord!
Jesus is with us through the Spirit,
who renews our hearts, moves us to faith,
leads us in the truth, upholds us in our need,
and makes our obedience fresh and vibrant.
The Spirit thrusts us into worldwide mission,
impels young and old, men and women,
to work at home and abroad in every area of life
with the good news of God's grace.
The Spirit's gifts are here to stay in rich variety—
each one given for the common good.
We see each other as members of Christ's body,
empowered by the Spirit to praise God,
love our neighbor,
and bring healing to this broken world until every
inch of creation declares, "Jesus is Lord!"
—taken from Our World Belongs lo Cod, A Contemporary Testimony (PsH p. 1019).
Scattered throughout this issue are brief stories and testimonies from a number of people reflecting on their understanding and experiences of the Lord's Supper. Working from a list of subscribers to Reformed Worship, Jessie Schut collected these testimonies through phone interviews. Our thanks to all the people who shared their stories with RW. And our thanks to Jessie as well; she could undoubtedly tell many more stories about the fascinating conversations she had with people throughout the United States and Canada.
Jessie Schut is a freelance author living in Edmonton, Alberta. Her most recent book is A Pile of Stories, a book of devotions for children ages 8-12 that helps children and their families remember the great things God has done (available from CRC Publications; call 1-800-333-8300 and ask for product #1701-0402RW).
SEVEN COMMUNION SONGS EVERY SUNDAY:
Seven communion songs every Sunday? There are only twenty communion songs in our entire hymnal! Within three weeks you'll be recycling through the same songs!" Such was the response of a thoughtful friend when I told her that at Church of the Servant (COS) we celebrate communion every week and sing six or seven songs during the celebration. At COS, the singing continues as different groups come forward in turn to form circles of about fifty people at a time.
My friend assumed that songs sung during communion should refer specifically to the bread and wine, or perhaps to the last supper. After all, shouldn't our songs fit whatever we are doing? Of course, but the celebration of communion is more than bread and wine. In fact, when I begin planning the music for a communion service, I do not ask, "How can I make the Lord's Supper more vivid?" Nor do I ask, "How can I, through song, explain the sacrament?" Rather, I ask, "How can I assist in making the immediate presence of Christ more vivid? How can I, through the songs I choose, assist in comforting a brother, offering hope to a sister, instilling faith in a child so that the body of Christ is renewed?" Consequently my fund of songs is larger than only those that refer to the bread and wine or the body and blood of Christ.
Neither am I restricted (during this part of the service) to songs that connect directly to the sermon. Sermons typically have a single theme. For communion, I select songs that simply elevate Christ and, depending on the season, I may include songs that celebrate not only his atonement, but his incarnation, his resurrection, the coming of the Holy Spirit, and/or the second coming.
So how do I go about selecting those six or seven songs? Three things are important to me: variety, flow, and time.
Some people come to the table light-hearted, others brokenhearted. Some are energetic, others bone tired. Some find solace in traditional hymns; others are refreshed by contemporary choruses. I attempt to respect this diversity by selecting a variety of songs. I choose songs with various moods from several musical genres and lead them in different ways. I may introduce a particular song with a flute solo or separate the verses with a piano interlude. I may ask several sopranos to sing a descant on a final verse.
Variety also extends to musical leadership. Our music leaders—about ten of us—typically know weeks in advance who will be leading music at any given service. The piano is our primary instrument; we do not have an organ or a choir, but call together a variety of people each week to provide vocal leadership or play instruments. One caution: communion is not the time to learn a new song or to give complex introductions on how a song will be sung. If a song is new to the
congregation, or if a familiar song is being used in an unfamiliar way, consider having it led by a few singers and/or instrumentalists.
At its best, the sequence of songs during communion progresses logically. The progression could be based on redemption history. For example, during Advent, the sequence could begin with a cry for the coming of the Messiah, then move to several songs about Christ's life and atonement, and end with a cry for Jesus to return. Alternatively, the progression could be based on a contrast. For example, if the congregation is recently bereaved, the sequence could move from sadness to hope or, during Lent, it could move from darkness to light.
But "flow" refers to more than a logical textual progression. Some well-intentioned person could choose a perfectly logical sequence of songs that, when sung, has no soul and hence no flow. Flow also depends on the emotional and spiritual involvement and preparedness of the leader(s). In fact, I believe that the music leader(s)—I prefer to call them "lead worshipers"—are peculiarly helpful to the congregation when they themselves are worshiping while they lead, and when they themselves are allowing their own hearts to be re-formed by the music. When the congregation senses this, a beautiful momentum is created. ("Music leader" in this context should be.
MUSICIAN'S VIEW OF CELEBRATING THE SUPPER
understood broadly. The music leader— or lead worshiper—may in fact be the pianist or a few singers and/or instrumentalists.)
I need time to plan and time to execute my plan. I begin by reflect-ing on the season (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, etc.) as well as the needs and abilities of the congregation. Then I compile a list of about ten possibilities, consulting as many sources as possible. I narrow my choices to about seven after I determine the flow (or progression) and which musicians will be available. Songs not available in our two hymnals are provided in a bulletin insert. Finally, I need time to rehearse with others and time to prepare myself— musically and spiritually. Rushing through preparation contributes to a frenetic spirit, which undermines the celebration of communion for everyone.
"Seven communion songs every Sunday." That's a shorthand way of describing our weekly task at COS. Stated more precisely, at COS we attempt to choose six or seven songs every Sunday that, in their totality, put Christ on display so that those who participate in communion are made newly aware of the immediate power of Christ in our midst and are changed by it. For me this is more than a task. It is a sacred and rewarding responsibility.
SEQUENCE OF COMMUNION HYMNS FOR ORDINARY TIME
In addition to the sequence of songs included for the six services, here is one additional set for Ordinary Time. At COS we use two hymnals: Psalter Hymnal and Joyful Noises, our congregational looseleaf hymnal made possible by maintaining copyright licenses with CCLI and G.I.A. Several songs in that hymnal have been composed by our own members.
In addition we often provide a bulletin insert with songs gathered from the wide range of recent hymnals that offer many new and old songs for worship. I spend much time poring over worship music from OCP and different choral publishers, and often will find, for example, octavo anangements that offer welcome variety for leading hymns from the piano.
- "Bless the Lord" (Ps. 103:1; in Songs and Prayers from Taize G.I.A.; congregational refrain with varied instruments and a cantor part)
- "Children of the Heavenly Father" M 440, RL 585, TH 131, TWC 84
- "On Eagle's Wings" (Gather 433, Voices United 808; refrain only SFL 205; octavo with cantor and instrumental parts available, OCP 9493GC)
- "Sing of the Lord's Goodness" (OCP 7100GC)
- "Blessed Assurance, Jesus Is Mine" PsH 490, PH 341 , RL 453, TH 693, TWC 514
- "Make Me a Channel of Your Peace" PsH 545 (Descant by Martin Neary for the funeral of Princess Diana available, OCP 10762)
- "Go, My Children, with My Blessing" (see p. 30)
OCP = Oregon Catholic Press: 1-800-LITURGY (548-8749); E-mail: email@example.com
G.I.A. = G.I.A. Publications, 1-800-442-1358
Note: The most convenient source for ordering recent hymnals and supplements is from the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada. Simply call 1-800-THE HYMN (843-4966).
The art below can be photocopied and used as bulletin cover art during Advent. Art will fit at 100% on a standard bulletin cover (8.5"xl I" piece of paper folded in half). The remaining art in the Service Planning article may be used as cover art for subsequent seasons.
Sequence of Communion Hymns for Advent
- "Wait for the Lord" (in Songs and Prayers from Taize—G.l.A.) Congregation on refrains with varied accompaniments; solo on verses.
- "Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus" P5H 329, PH 1, 2, RL 183, SFL 122, TH 196, TWC 135 (see also accessible SATB arr. by Ed Harris, Curtis House of Music)
- "Emmanuel, Emmanuel" TWC 140
Sung several times with varied accompaniments.
- "Holy Is the Lord" TWC 831
- "At the Name of Jesus" (PsH 329 with descant; see also setting by Christopher Walker, OCP)
- "Alleluia, He Is Coming" (RW 42:26)
- "Soon and Very Soon" SFL 194, TWC 677
Sequence of Communion Hymns for Christmas
- "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming" PsH 351, PH 48, RL 204, TH 221, TWC 163 (see descant settings in Traditional Choral Praise, OCP, 1992)
- "Holy Is His Name" (a setting of the Magnificat by John Michael Talbot, OCP) Congregational refrain; soloist on verses.
- "What Child Is This" m 53-RL217> ™213'nvc 15° (see also Traditional Choral Praise, OCP)
- "Raise a Song of Gladness" (in Songs and Prayers from Taize—G.I.A.)
- "All Praise to Christ" (ENGELBERG; Covenant -Hymnal 309)
- "Amen, Amen" PsH 365, PH 299
Sequence of Communion Hymns for Epiphany
- "O Come to Me, You Weary" (New Century Hymnal 484)
- "In All Our Living" (PUES SI VIVIMOS; The New Century Hymnal 499)
- "How Firm a Foundation" PsH S00, PH 361, RL 172, TH 94, TWC 612
- "Halle, Halle, Hallelujah" (77k? Covenant Hymnal 491, With One Voice 612, Voices United 958)
- "Holy God, We Praise Your Name" PsH 504, PH 460, RL 619, TH 103, TWC 3
- "Come Follow Me" (AR HYD Y NOS; arr. John Carter, Sacred Music Press, 1996)
- "Lead Me, Guide Me Along the Way" PsH 544, SFL 22
Sequence of Communion Hymns for Lent
- "Within Our Darkest Night" (in Songs and Prayers from Taize—G.I.A.) Vary repetitions with different instruments and descant.
- "Create in Me a Clean Heart, O God" (by John Carter, Hope Publishing, 1997)
- "Lord of All Hopefulness" PsH 558, Twc 369
- "We Are People on a Journey" (Somos pueblo que camina, New Century Hymnal 340)
- "I Know That My Redeemer Lives" (by David Haas, G.I.A., 1990) Congregation on refrain, soloist on verses.
- "When Peace Like a River" PsH 489, TH 691, 519
- "By the Sea of Crystal" PsH 620, TH 549
Sequence of Communion Hymns for Easter
- "Oh, How Good Is Christ the Lord PsH 401, SFL 177
- "This Joyful Eastertide" PsH403, RL 328, TH 284
- "I Am the Bread of Life" (by Suzanne Toolan, G.I.A., 1996)
- "Crown Him with Many Crowns" PsH 410, PH 151, RL 600, TH 295, TWC 92
- "Jesus Is Our King" (by Sherrle Prebble, Celebration Services, 1978)
- "Sent Forth by God's Blessing" (ASH GROVE; in Glory and Praise 588,1997 ed.)
Sequence of Communion Hymns for Pentecost
- "Come, Taste and See" (by John Becker, OCP, 1989)
- Spirit of God" PsH 419, PH 326, RL 445, TH 338, TWC 290
- "Father, We Love You" PsH 634, SFL 77, TWC 10
- "Now Thank We All Our God" PsH 454, PH 555, RL 61, TH 98, TWC 374
- "He Leadeth Me, O Blessed Thought" PsH 452, RL 161, TH 600, TWC 635
- "Give Thanks" (RW 20:30, Covenant Hymnal 74)