A service in which every congregational song is a Genevan psalm? In this day of blended services, of drawing on song resources in many styles and from the global community? That is exactly what First Christian Reformed Church did on Reformation Day in 2010.
Not only was Reformation Day itself on a Sunday that year, which is not common, but it also fell during the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of John Calvin’s birth. In recognition of the significant contributions Calvin made to the Reformed understanding of the role of music in worship and the body of psalm settings for congregational singing developed in the Genevan church, our worship planners prepared a service in which songs from the Genevan repertoire were selected for each point of congregational singing in the service.
Though this service occurred on Reformation Day, it could be done on any Sunday where it is appropriate to “Sing a Psalm of Joy” in gratitude for God’s faithfulness.
Because understanding why we do what we do in worship is important, we posted the following notice in the bulletin a week before our church’s Reformation Day service: On October 31, 1517, the Reformation of the church began. On this Lord’s Day we will praise the God of grace and truth in our worship of him by singing psalms that are a part of our Reformation heritage. These psalms were sung in John Calvin’s church in Geneva, Switzerland, and were important in the rediscovery of congregational singing. Think of them as the contemporary music of the 1500s!
The songbook of the psalms is rich in texts of praise, repentance, intercession,
and commitment, so fitting them to liturgical actions in worship is no great stretch. Following are the psalms we selected from the Psalter Hymnal for our service.
The opening congregational song—“Sing a Psalm of Joy” (based on Psalm 81)—
exuberantly calls us to celebratory worship of the God of our salvation, a God whose pleasure it is to give us all we need. “Let God Arise and by His Might,” (Psalm 68), which we used for the call to worship and the responding song, further proclaims the power and majesty of our great God, who gives strength to his people.
The service of confession was centered in Psalms 25 and 116. For the confession, Psalm 25 was read in three segments (vv. 1-7, 8-15, 16-22); each segment followed by the singing of the related stanza of “Lord, to You My Soul Is Lifted” (Psalm 25).
God’s gracious Word of forgiveness was voiced in the words of Psalm 116: “I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. . . .”
The sermon, titled “Life in the Spirit,” was based on Romans 8:1-27. As a song of response we chose another sturdy psalm, “Give Thanks to God for All His Goodness” (Psalm 118), proclaiming God’s faithfulness with the confession, “You are my God and I will praise you: your love forever is the same!”
The final congregational song of the service, “Forever I Will Sing of Your Great Love, O Lord” (Psalm 89), further celebrated God’s faithfulness, again in a sturdy major-mode tune of breadth and confidence.
Throughout the service, instrumental music supported the tone of joy, majesty, and confidence. A quartet of two trumpets and two trombones added bright instrumental color to the congregational singing. The organ prelude, “Variations on Psalm 68,” foreshadowed the later singing of that psalm, while the introvert arrangement in minimal music style of “Praise Is Your Right, O God, in Zion” (Psalm 65) invited the congregation to silent reflection and praise during the offertory. Finally, the exuberant postlude “Festival Postlude on Genevan Psalm 149” capped the triumphant joy of the service.
We Gather for Worship
Prelude: “Variations on Psalm 68” (van Twillert/Mulder)
Hymn of Preparation: “Sing a Psalm of Joy” PsH 81 (st. 1, lead singers only; st. 2, 7, all)
God Calls Us to Worship
Call to Worship and Salutation
Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.
Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death.
Proclaim the power of God, whose majesty is over Israel, whose power is in the skies.
You are awesome, O God, in your sanctuary;
the God of Israel gives power and strength to his people.
Praise be to God! (Ps. 68:19-20, 34-35)
The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Hymn of Praise: “Let God Arise and by His Might” PsH 68 (st. 6, 9)
God Reconciles Us to Himself
Service of Confession
Scripture Reading: Psalm 25:1-7
Song: “Lord, to You My Soul Is Lifted” PsH 25 (st. 1, solo)
Scripture Reading: Psalm 25:8-15
Song: “Lord, to You My Soul Is Lifted” PsH 25 (st. 2, solo)
Scripture Reading: Psalm 25:16-22
Song: “Lord, to You My Soul Is Lifted” PsH 25 (st. 3, all)
Assurance of Pardon: Psalm 116:1-2, 5-6
Hymn of Dedication: “I Love the Lord, for He Has Heard My Voice” PsH 116 (st. 1, 2, 4)
God’s Will for Our Lives: Summary of the Law
Choral Response: “From Age to Age the Same” (Larson)
God Speaks to Us through His Word
Prayer for Illumination
Scripture Reading: Romans 8:1-27
This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God!
Sermon: “Life in the Spirit”
Hymn of Response: “Give Thanks to God for All His Goodness” PsH 118 (st. 1-3)
We Respond in Prayer and Thanksgiving
Prayer of the People
Offertory: “Psalm 65” (Matter)
Hymn of Dedication: “Forever I Will Sing of Your Great Love, O Lord” PsH 89 (st. 1, 8)
God Sends Us into the World
Postlude: “Festive Postlude on Genevan Psalm 149” (Ingelse)