Singing Through the Christian Year
Our church follows the seasons of the Christian year and the lectionary Scripture passages, changing banners and colors accordingly. When we planned a service called “Singing Through the Christian Year,” it provided us with the opportunity to “walk through” the Christian year in one evening and to reprise many of the choir anthems we had learned and used in services over the past year.
The service was especially meaningful to the choir members, who had often claimed a particular song as their own during the weeks of rehearsal and were given an opportunity to express why the song had touched them. It was also a wonderful way to remind the congregation of the way our worship committee plans for worship services.
We positioned a small table to the right and in front of the choir. The table was used to feature the cloths and paraments of various colors, the Advent wreath, and the Christ candle. As the worship leader read a narration explaining each of the liturgical seasons, the appropriate colors were draped on the table and the appropriate candles were lit.
The service below includes the anthems our choir sang, but with a few tweaks of the narration you can easily include your own choral repertoire within the framework provided.
Call to Worship: Isaiah 35, selected verses, read responsively
Song: “I Will Sing of the Mercies of the Lord” CH 161, PsH 169, WR 60
Anthem: “Be Still and Know that I Am God” Stephen Curtis Chapman/arr. Lloyd Larsen (Hope Publishing)
Welcome to this special worship service. Tonight as we revisit some of the choir and orchestra anthems from the past year we will be “walking through” the Christian liturgical year. We’ll explore the major themes of each season and highlight the colors, symbols, and Scripture passages, as well as the songs, that were chosen to enrich our worship.
Our church joins with churches all over the world in following the lectionary; which is a system for working our way through most of the Bible every three years. We also join with “a great cloud of witnesses”—some living, others long dead—as we follow the progression of the Christian year.
The Christian year is an ongoing pageant that unfolds, bringing to mind the historic events of two thousand years ago and connecting them with the present. The Christian year locates us in the history of God’s redemption. It inspires us and stirs us to richer worship by helping us to explore the many facets of God’s character. It gives us a “balanced diet” of penitence, sorrow, great joy, and celebration. And it has a way of unifying us with other Christians, forming a significant bridge between groups that otherwise find themselves divided.
Anthem: “We Believe” John Purifoy (Brookfield Press)
[Purple colors, wreath placed, and candles lit]
Let’s begin at the beginning—not in January, as our calendars do, but at Advent—four Sundays before Christmas. The main themes of Advent are repentance, waiting, preparation, and joy. The primary color of the Advent season is purple, signifying a period of penitence and preparation for the coming of the King. In this season, we ask ourselves whether we are ready for the Christ child. On the third Sunday of Advent our mood is one of joy, symbolized by the pink candle in the Advent wreath, as we are reminded that God has been merciful to us in sending us his Son.
Anthem: “Advent Credo” Joseph Martin (Harold Flammer)
“O Come, O Come Emmanuel” CH 245, PH 9, PsH 328, SWM 81, SFL 123, TH 194, WR 154
“Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” CH 244, PH 1,2, PsH 329, SWM 83, TH 196, WR 153
“Prepare the Way of the Lord” SNC 105, SWM 84, WR 174
Psalm 25; Psalm 130:5-7; Isaiah 2:1-5; Isaiah 40:3
[White colors, Christ candle lit]
The period of waiting for the Christ child ends, of course, on Christmas Day. The Christmas season, which lasts for two weeks, is a time of great joy and celebration. We decorate a Crismon tree (literally: Christ monograms, see RW 5) with many symbols for Christ including crowns, stars, crosses, sheep, and roses. The color for Christmas is white, which suggests purity. At last the Christ candle is lit, and is featured prominently in the sanctuary.
Anthem: “Behold That Star” arr. Philip Kern (Shawnee Press)
“He Came Down” SNC 92, SFL 136, SWM 91, WR 402
“Angels We Have Heard On High” CH 278, PH 23, PsH 347, SFL 133, SWM 90, TH 214, WR 188
“Joy to the World” CH 270, PH 40, PsH 337, SFL 137, SWM 94, TH 195, WR 179
“Gloria, Gloria” PH 576, SNC 115, SFL 134, SWM 93, WR 240
“O Come All Ye Faithful” CH 249, PH 41, PsH 340, SWM 102, TH 208, WR 182
Psalm 98; Luke 2
[Advent wreath is removed]
After Christmas we begin the season of Epiphany, which lasts for seven Sundays. Epiphany means “to reveal”; we celebrate the glory of God, which is revealed to us in his Son, Jesus. During this season our children learned and sang the song, “Open Our Eyes, Lord, We Want to See Jesus.” We also focused on Jesus’ earthly ministry from his baptism through his transfiguration. During Epiphany the sanctuary remains decorated in white, for light and brightness. Often during this season additional candles are lit each Sunday to remind us to let our light shine in the world just as Christ did.
“My Hope Is Built” arr. John Carter (Beckenhorst Press, Inc.)
“We Are One With You, O Lord” Jay Althouse (Hope Publishing, Inc.)
“Songs of Thankfulness and Praise” PsH 361, WR 243
“Open Our Eyes, Lord” CH 633, SNC 80, SWM 179, WR 491
“Christ, upon the Mountain Peak” PsH 369
“The King of Glory Comes” PsH 370, SFL 156, TH 240, WR 159
Isaiah 60; Matthew 2:1-12; Romans 15:5-13
The season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and ends just before Easter, spanning six Sundays. Holy Week is the last week of Lent and includes Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. This is the season of penitence, so we again decorate the sanctuary with purple. On the Sundays of Lent there is likely to be more focus on our sin, as well as on the great suffering endured by our Savior. This culminates in our celebration of Maundy Thursday (or Good Friday), when the communion table is draped in black and the Christ candle is carried out in silence.
[Black cloth draped, Christ candle carried out]
Anthem: “When You Prayed Beneath the Trees” Christopher Idle and Lloyd Larsen (Hope Publishing)
“What Wondrous Love Is This” CH 314, PH 85, PsH 379, SFL 169, TH 261, WR 257
“Go to Dark Gethsemane” PH 97, PsH 381, WR 272
“O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” CH 316, PH 98, PsH 383, TH 247, WR 284
“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” CH 321, 324, PH 100, 101, PsH 384, SFL 166, TH 252, WR 261
Psalm 51; Joel 2:12-17
[White color, Christ candle carried in]
As somber as our mood was on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, on Easter we begin the most celebrative period of the church year, lasting seven weeks through Ascension Day. The early church moved their day of worship from Saturday to Sunday so that each Sunday is a “little Easter.” Our greeting to each other becomes “Christ is risen! Alleluia!” (In our children’s worship centers, the children do not sing or say the word “Alleluia” during Lent until Easter morning.) The prominent color in the sanctuary remains white, symbolizing how we are purified through Christ’s death and resurrection. The Christ candle also reenters the sanctuary as we sing with great joy that our Savior is risen; he is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Anthem: “Rise Up Singing” Craig Courtney and Pamela Martin (Beckenhorst Press)
“Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” CH 367, PH 113, PsH 388, SFL 172, SWM 132, TH 277, WR 288
“Oh, How Good Is Christ the Lord” PsH 401, SFL 177, SWM 159
Psalm 118; Matthew 28:1-10; 1 Corinthians 15
We celebrate Pentecost and highlight the gift of the Holy Spirit for one week, during which the sanctuary is decorated with red to symbolize fire. Following Pentecost our time is devoted to Christian instruction; that is, the study of the revelation of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and how that truth is applied to life. For the next several weeks we continue to sing of how the Spirit moves among us and makes us Christ’s disciples.
Anthem: “Christians We Have Met to Worship” arr. Lloyd Larsen (Beckenhorst Press)
“Gift of Christ from God Our Father” SNC 167
“Breathe On Me, Breath of God” CH 393, PH 316, PsH 420, TH 334, WR 461
“Spirit of the Living God” CH 389, PH 322, PsH 424, SFL 184, TH 726, WR 492
Psalm 104; Acts 2:1-41; Ephesians 1:13-14
Meditation on Psalm 104:24-35
Anthem: “With All My Heart” Joel Raney (Hope Publishing)
Trinity (or Ordinary Time)
Next comes the Trinity season. Lasting twenty-four weeks, it is the longest season of the church year. We decorate with green to signify new growth (the children call this “growing time”). From summer through Thanksgiving we continue to “Sing to the Lord a new song; bless his name: and proclaim the good tidings of his salvation day to day.” The church year ends with Christ the King Sunday, celebrating again Christ’s reign on high and victory over sin.
“For Eternity” Twila Paris/arr. Kyle Hill (Allegis)
“You Are the Lord” Michael W. Smith and Debbie Smith/arr. Stan Pethel (Hope Publishing)
“Come All You People” SNC 4
“Come Thou Almighty King” CH 8, PS 139, PsH 246, TH 101, WR 148
“Holy Holy Holy” CH 3, PH 138, PsH 249, SFL 66, TH 100, WR 136
“Holy God, We Praise Your Name” CH 2, PH 460, PsH 504, TH 103, WR 138
Psalm 8; John 16:12-15; Ephesians 4:4-6
Offering taken at the door
For Further Study
How Shall We Worship? by Marva J. Dawn (Tyndale House, 2003)
Seasons and Symbols: A Handbook on the Church Year by Robert P. Wetzler (Augsburg Publishing, 1962)