A Tapestry of Grace
We often lead services that focus on a particular part of the gospel story, but we rarely step back to see the big picture—the “metanarrative,” as it is sometimes called. A Tapestry of Grace is a hymn festival that does just that, telling the story of God’s love from the garden of Eden to the new Jerusalem.
Each section of the service is a medley of different song styles on the same theme. This “two sides of the same coin” approach both expands our stylistic palate and broadens our theological perspective. Further, it models blended worship, showing that different types of musicians can come together in one service. One of the keys to creating a cohesive medley is, well, keys. If songs are in similar keys it allows for smooth transitions, creating a sense that the songs belong together. Therefore, I’ve included key recommendations and suggestions for transitions.
You will likely want to precede each section with a spoken introduction. I give suggestions for Scriptures and themes, but you’ll want to flesh this out in a way that makes sense for your worship context.
The service was originally created for the Presbyterian Association of Musicians’ 2016 Montreat conference—a fine group of singers if ever there was one! They learned all the music quickly and sang heartily. Depending on your context, you may need to reduce the number of songs or have soloists teach new songs before asking people to sing.
Call to Worship
“Alleluia” is a word shared universally by Christians. Beginning with a medley of alleluia songs reinforces the point that we are singing God’s story, not ours. The thread of grace that weaves through creation, fall, and redemption is a thread that binds together those of us in the pews with believers of every time and place.
I prefer to lead these first three songs a cappella, with no printed music, and without any verbal introduction. This allows the worshipers to quickly engage their ears and their voices.
“Alleluia” Taizé, LUYH 189 (D minor): Sing this through once so the congregation can hear how it sounds. Avoid the temptation to take this too slowly. It should dance!
“Hallelujah” Zimbabwe, GtG 590 (F): In a key related to the previous, it should be easy enough to find your pitch for the opening notes. Sing through the melody, then ask the congregation to join you. Without stopping the melody, add the tenor, alto, then bass. Once the four parts are confident, add djembes, bells, and shakers.
“Alleluia” Sinclair, PsH 640, WR 316 (F): Similarly, begin this song a cappella. This is such a well-known song you should be able to step back from the microphone after the second “alleluia” and let the congregation lead itself. If you want to bring in instruments, have them play a C7 chord (or a Bb/C if you’re cool) two beats before the melody returns. If the pitch has dropped during a cappella singing, this will provide a reference pitch to get the congregation back on track.
“Nyanyikanlah/Hallelujah! Sing Praise to Your Creator” Lubis/Diephouse, LUYH 550, RW 92:32 (F): Leave a beat of silence as the previous song fades from the air, and then have your instrumentalists play a short introduction: the repeated “God reigns on high, let the heavens rejoice.” This Indonesian song has a joyous melody that sings itself; don’t over-accompany it! I find that a sturdy quarter-note bass drum beat is enough to lock in the rhythm without getting in the way of the singing.
It’s important that you begin a service on a confident note. If you don’t feel comfortable beginning the service with a cappella singing, here are a few options for alternative opening songs:
“There in God’s Garden” von Pécselyi/Routley, LUYH 684, RW 102:15
“God of Grace and God of Glory” Fosdick, LUYH 926, GtG307, PH 420
In the Beginning
Our metanarrative begins with two songs based on Psalm 104, the great ode to God’s creating power. The first is widely known and well loved. The second is a newer addition to the church’s repertoire: “Rejoice in All Your Works” by Alabama songwriter Wendell Kimbrough. The song can be heard on his album Psalms We Sing Together and in a forthcoming choral anthem published by GIA.
The spoken introduction to this section could be a reading from Genesis 1, a creation liturgy such as Mark Earey's “In the Beginning Liturgy” (engageworship.org/ideas/the-beginning-liturgy), or simply reading from Psalm 104.
“O Worship the King/Psalm 104” Grant, LUYH 2, GtG 41, PsH 428, RW 47:10 (G)
“Rejoice in All Your Works (Psalm 104)” link to audio Kimbrough (D): For a smooth transition between the two songs, use the chorus of “Rejoice in All Your Works” as an introduction. The chorus begins on the IV chord in D major, which is also the final chord of the previous hymn.
The Human Condition
The tranquility of the garden was destroyed by sin, and sin has been the human legacy ever since. While Adam and Eve hid themselves from God, Psalm 130 expresses a better post-sin posture: contrition and a plea for mercy. Here we sing two renditions of this penitential psalm, the first by Martin Luther and the second by Karl Digerness of City Church in San Francisco.
You could introduce this section with a call to confession; 1 John 1:5–9, with its themes of darkness and light, seems particularly appropriate following the creation.
“Psalm 130/Out of the Depths” Luther, GtG 424, PFAS 130A (A minor): As with all of the multi-verse hymns included in this hymnfest, feel free to vary the singing—unison, men, women, harmony—to invigorate participation. Also use instrumentation to provide tonal color.
“Psalm 130/Out of the Depths I Cry to You” link to audio Digerness, PFAS 130D (A minor): This arrangement may be new to many in your congregation; use a soloist to introduce sections of the song before asking them to sing.
The Gift of Grace
Humans lived under the curse of sin and a complex sacrificial system of atonement until Jesus offered himself on the cross as the perfect sacrifice for sin once and for all. Too often, we lose sight of how costly Jesus’ sacrifice was. One of the beautiful things about music is that it helps us feel truth rather than simply understand it. These two songs are a powerful testament to Christ’s unswerving love. “O Sacred Head” is the quintessential passion hymn. “Holy Gift of Love” is a newer addition to our passion repertoire. It is a beautiful song in its own right, but coming from Mongolia it drives home the point that Christ’s work was for the whole world.
In the introduction to this section, you may want to complete the theme of confession begun in the previous section with a confession (Romans 8:31–34, e.g.) or a “Lamb of God” Scripture like 1 Peter 1:18–21 or Revelation 5:11–12.
“O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” Medieval Latin/tr. Alexander, LUYH 168, GtG 221, PsH 383, RW 84:38 (C): There are thousands of arrangements of this hymn. If you have two instrumentalists, try adding this double descant: goo.gl/fRrj3H.
“Holy Gift of Love” Banzragch, Global Songs for Worship 22 (A minor): This will be new to most people, so provide an extended introduction or solo verse to help them learn it. Try an intro of the verse melody played on violin with a clothespin attached to the bridge; this makeshift mute gives the violin a nasal tone that mimics the Mongolian horsehead fiddle.
Blessing and Honor
Blessing and honor and glory and power,
wisdom and riches and strength evermore,
be to the Lamb who our battle has won,
whose are the kingdom, the crown, and the throne.
Let all the heavens sound forth Jesus’ name;
let all the earth sing his glory and fame.
Ocean and mountain, stream, forest, and flower
echo these praises and tell of God’s power.
Ever ascending the song and the joy,
ever descending the love from on high;
blessing and honor and glory and praise:
this is the theme of the hymns that we raise.
Give we the glory and praise to the Lamb;
take we the robe and the harp and the palm;
sing we the song of the Lamb that was slain,
dying in weakness but rising to reign.
—Horatius Bonar, 1858, P.D.
The Life of Gratitude
Christ’s redemptive work is the foundation upon which we build our lives. Through storm and flood, our hope can rest securely in him. These two songs are inspired by the parable of the wise and foolish persons (Matthew 7:24–27), encouraging us to build on the solid rock. In fact, they are two versions of the same song. Like many hymns of its era, “My Hope Is Built” traveled abroad with missionaries. In Kenya, the Swahili translation soon was paired with a tune in a local music style. It has since spread throughout Africa and is now returning to the West in a new English “back translation.”
A spoken introduction to this medley might include the parable of building on the rock or sand, Jesus’ exhortation in Matthew 16:24–26 to “take up [your] cross and follow me,” or the conclusion of the previous Romans reading (8:37–38) that reminds us we are more than conquerors in Christ.
“My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less” Mote, LUYH 772 (F): Trust your pianist or organist to lead this with his or her own special style. Modulate to the key of G before the last verse; this will create additional energy and lift you to the key of the next song.
“Kwake Yesu/Here On Jesus Christ I Will Stand” Kenyan, LUYH 708, RW 88:12 (G): This can be sung in a bouncy, upbeat style or more slowly as a ballad. If you have Kenyan musicians in your congregation, by all means rely on them for help. An SATB/piano anthem is available as well at bit.ly/2oYcawC.
Life in the Spirit
What would the Christian metanarrative be without the Holy Spirit? Indeed, what would the Christian life be without the Spirit? This medley celebrates the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Both songs trace back to Rabanus Maurus’ Latin hymn “Veni Creator Spiritus.” The first song uses the original plainchant tune with an English translation by John Cosin. The second uses a translation by Edward Caswall with a new tune by Bruce Benedict and an added refrain by Ray Mills. This is a wonderful example of the way music can bring out different elements of the same text. The plainchant is austere and ethereal, whereas the Benedict/Mills composition is rugged and encouraging.
An introduction to a Holy Spirit medley could begin with the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), the Spirit as Paraclete (John 14:16-17), or the Spirit’s work in our prayers (Romans 8:26-27).
“Come, Holy Spirit, Our Souls Inspire” Maurus, tr. Cosin, LUYH 231 (Bb): Why do we feel the need to harmonize everything? Being a plainchant, this song is meant to be sung in unison. Drone a Bb on a handbell or organ and let that be the only accompaniment. If you’re worried about the congregation being unsteady or too slow, have a choir or soloist sing the first verse to establish the tempo and model chant singing for the people.
“Come, Holy Ghost” Maurus, Benedict and Mills, LUYH 232, RW 107:23 (D minor): For ideas on how to lead this song, visit worship.calvin.edu/resources/resource-library/renewed-come-holy-ghost/.
Other songs to consider for the “The World to Come” segment include:
“O Morning Star, O Radiant Sun” von Spee, tr. Seltz, LUYU 472, PFAS 144A (D minor): The lyrics express a yearning for the return of Christ Jesus. The song may be sung with the reading of Psalm 144: sing stanza 1, read verses 1–4, sing stanza 2, read verses 5–8, sing stanza 3, read verses 9–15, sing stanza 4.
“Soon and Very Soon” Crouch, LUYH 482, GtG 384 (F): An upbeat song filled with exuberant joy and eschatological hope.
“Jerusalem the Golden” Bernard of Cluny, tr. Neale, LUYH 488, PsH 618 (C): The text is based on the imagery of the new Jerusalem found in Revelation 21:22.
“Hallelujah, Salvation, and Glory” LaValley, LUYH 491 (C): A very engaging song which the congregation may sing in three parts with each part overlapping the others.
The World to Come
Finally, we look forward to the new creation. This medley bookends the beginning “alleluias” with song after song imagining a future in which all peoples worship at the throne of God. It is appropriate, then, that this medley draws on songs from all around the world. Hopefully, this will give us a little glimpse of the glory that awaits us!
It is fitting that the culmination of the metanarrative and the conclusion of our hymn festival portrays a vision of heavenly worship in the new Jerusalem with readings from Revelation 5 and 21:1–8.
“Heaven Opened to Isaiah (Holy, Holy, You Are Holy)” Link to audio Rwandan, GtG 68, Global Songs for Worship 6 (F): This Rwandan hymn begins with Isaiah’s vision (Isaiah 6) and moves toward its consummation in the new Jerusalem. The Rwandan style is to accompany singing only with hand claps on beats 1 and 3. If simultaneous clapping and singing would undo your congregation, either assign a designated clapper or beat the rhythm on a drum.
“At the Throne” (G): On the final chord of the previous song, begin the introduction to this lovely Korean praise song. It is extremely well known among Korean Christians, so it is likely that a congregation with Korean members will produce a volunteer to sing a verse in its original language. For accompaniment and orchestral resources, visit goo.gl/B9JKA9.
“Blessing and Honor” GtG 369, verse 4 (G): The medley ends with a return to “Blessing and Honor.” Invite all your musicians to join on this triumphant final verse.