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Comfort, Comfort Now My People: A service of dramatic readings and songs from the book of Isaiah

The book of Isaiah is filled with poetry that has been set to music, more so than any other book of the Bible except for the Psalms. The gospel is clearly set forth in this Old Testament prophecy, which also includes visions remarkably similar to those of John in the book of Revelation. Last year was an "Isaiah year" for the Calvin Seminary Choir. The following service was part of the choir tour program. In addition to directing the choir, the choir director directed the congregation's entrances and gave cues for standing and sitting. After the greetings and welcome, the service proceeded without announcement.

The service calls for four readers, two men for the parts of Isaiah and John, and two women for the narrator's short role and for the seraph in Isaiah 6. We used two mikes, one on the left for Isa iah, narrator, and seraph; one on the right for John. Each reader had the complete script (based on the NRSV), with the readings double-spaced. See the inside front cover of this issue of RW for information about ordering the service (including readings) on computer disk and for a copy of the origi nal bulletin.

The bulletin cover was designed by Jeffrey Meyer, then a student at the Seminary, now pastor of Oakwood Christian Reformed Church, Belding, Michigan.

THE SERVICE

Prelude: "Comfort, Comfort Now My People" 1

Choral Processional: "Prepare the Way of the Lord" (Isa. 40:3; 52:10) Taize: SFL 124

Greetings and Welcome

THE CALL OF ISAIAH

Reading: Isaiah 6:1-2 ; Revelation 1:9-10; 4:1-6 2

Hymn: "Holy God, We Praise Your Name" arr. John Ferguson, 1988 (Augsburg) Psh 504, PH 460, RL 619, TH 103

st. 1-2: choir
st. 3: all join in at "and from morn ..."
st. 4: all

Reading: Isaiah 6:1-3; Revelation 4:8 3

Response: "Holy, Holy, Holy" (Isa. 6:3) Franz Schubert, as found in TWC 831

[sung by the choir]

Reading: Revelation 4:9-10 4

Hymn: "You Are Worthy" (Rev. 4:11) PsH 232

Reading: Isaiah 6:4-8 5

Hymn: "Here I Am, Lord" (Isa. 6) arr. Dan Schutte, 1981 (OCP) PH 525, SFL 243

[choir on stanzas, all on refrain after st. 2]

THE MESSAGE OF ISAIAH

Reading: Isaiah 58:1-5 6

Hymn: "How Would the Lord Be Worshiped" (Isa. 58:6-11) PsH 609

st. 1-3: choir
st. 4-5: all

Reading: Isaiah 1:18-20 7

Hymn: "Though Your Sins Be as Scarlet" (Isa. 1:18)
(Fanny Crosby), PsH 399 (1934 edition), TH 556

Reading: Isaiah 40:1-2 8

Reading: "Comfort, Comfort Now My People" (Isa. 40:1-5) PsH 194, PH 3, RL 169, SFL 121, TH 197

st. 1: all
st. 2: choir (air. in SFL 121)
st. 3: all

Reading: Isaiah 52:9-10; 53:1-3 9

Anthem: "Surely He Hath Borne Our Griefs" (Isa. 53:4) (Antonio Lotti, 1667-1740)

Reading: Isaiah 65:23-25 10

Hymn: "Isaiah the Prophet" (Isa. 11) arr. Austin Lovelance, 1993 (Selah) PsH 616, PH 337

[sung by the choir]

Reading: Isaiah 65:17-18 11

Emily R. Brink is editor of Reformed Worship and adjunct professor of worship and church music at Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Hymn: "Arise, Shine, for Your Light Is Come" (Isa. 60:1-5, 14) arr. Davis Folkerts, 1990 (Selah) PsH 198

st. 1-4: choir, with all on refrains as directed
st. 5: all

[sung standing, and followed immediately without breaking the rhythm, by]

Hymn: "The Trees of the Field" (Isa. 55:12) PsH 197, SFL 196

St. 1: all
st. 2 (in SFL): choir

Sermon 13

Prayers of the People

Offering

THE VISION OF A NEW HEAVEN AND A NEW EARTH

Reading: Isaiah 65:17-18; Revelation 21:1-2 13

Hymn: "Then I Saw a New Heaven and Earth" 14 PsH 236

st. 1-2: choir
st. 3-5: all

[continue immediately, cueing the congregation to stand for the doxology, singing from memory if possible]

Hymn: "Holy, Holy, Holy" PsH 249, PH 138, RL 611, TH 100 (st. 4 only)

Benediction

NOTES AND READINGS

1 The prelude could be various settings on the tune FREU DICH SEHR. Immediately after the prelude, the service begins with this proclamation from the back of the sanctuary (Isa. 40:1-2):

Narrator: Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. A voice cries out:

Isaiah: In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Then the choir processes, singing in unison until reaching the front, then singing two more times in canon.

2 Isaiah 6:1-2; Revelation 1:9-10; 4:16

Isaiah: In the year that King Uzziah died, I, Isaiah, saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple.

Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings; with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew.

John: I, John, was in the spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, saying, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this." There in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne!

Around the throne are twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones are twenty-four elders dressed in white robes, with golden crowns on their heads. And on each side of the throne are four living creatures, each of them with six wings.

3 Isaiah 6:1-3; Revelation 4:8

Isaiah: I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty. Seraphs were in attendance above him, and one called to another and said:

John: [interrupting Isaiah] And the four living creatures sing, day and night without ceasing:

Isaiah and John: [in unison] Holy, holy, holy

Isaiah: is the Lord God of hosts,

John: the Lord God Almighty,

Isaiah: the whole earth is filled with his glory.

John: who was, and is, and is to come.

4 Revelation 4:9-10

John: And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to the one who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing:

5 Isaiah 6:4-8

[The narrator and seraph stand on either side of Isaialt, turned toward him.]

Isaiah:The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke, [kneeling] And I said, "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts."

Narrator: Then one of the seraphs flew to him, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched his mouth with it and said,

Seraph: Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.

Isaiah: Then I heard the voice of the Lord say, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" And I said, "Send me."

6 Isaiah 58:1-5

Isaiah: [boldly, a distinct change of voice from the previous reading]

Shout out, do not hold back!
Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
to the house of Jacob their sin.
Day after day they seek me
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God.
You say, "Why do we fast, and you do not see?"
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?

7 Isaiah 1:18-20

Isaiah: [another change of voice]

Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord.
Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be like
snow.
If you are willing and obedient
you shall eat the good of the land;
but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by
the sword;
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

8 Isaiah 40:1-2

Isaiah: Comfort, comfort now my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins.

9 Isaiah 52:9-10; 53:1-3

Isaiah: Break forth into singing, you ruins of
Jerusalem.
for the Lord has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The Lord has bared his holy arm
before the eyes of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God.

[pause, and another change of tone]

Who has believed our report?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been
revealed?
For he grew up before him like a tender plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire
him.

He was despised and rejected by others,
a man of suffering and acquainted with grief,
and as one from whom others hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him of no account.

10 Isaiah 65:23-25

Isaiah: They shall not labor in vain,
or bear children for calamity;
Before they call, I will answer,
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent—its food shall be dust.
They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain.

11 Isaiah 65:17-18

Isaiah: I am about to create new heavens and a new
earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
Be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.

12 Here is the first climax of the service, which was followed on our tour program by an intermission and then several other choral works. The final section of the tour program returned to the Isaiah theme. Songs included several on the theme of creation. In a worship service, this would be a good place for a sermon, followed by prayers and an offering.

13 Isaiah 65:17-18; Revelation 21:1-2

Isaiah: I am about to create new heavens and a new
earth;
the former things shall not be remembered or
come to mind.
Be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.

John: Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth;
for the first heaven and the first earth had passed
away,
and the sea was no more.
And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem,
coming down out of heaven from God,
prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne...

14 The choir sings in unison, alternating men and women's voices on each half of the first section, then singing in unison at the change to the major key. The dynamics are firm on the first stanza, softer on the second, then building in strength from there until the final doxol-ogy. The doxology follows the hymn immediately, without a break. Cue the congregation to stand for the doxology, singing from memory if possible. Sing the doxology with full organ accompaniment, all the stops pulled, and everyone singing their hearts out!