Twenty minutes after midnight one of the MCs at this year’s annual New Year’s bash in Niagara Falls, Ontario, asked the crowd, “How do you like the year so far?” The crowd, which had just enjoyed a rock concert and a fireworks display, screamed its approval, oblivious to a fatal bombing in an earlier time zone that had elicited screams of a different kind. That’s the schizophrenic kind of world we live in.
That’s also what makes Lamentations 3:19-26 an especially appropriate text for a service that begins a new year. Jeremiah’s hopeful assertions about God’s great love and unfailing compassion are made against the backdrop of a terrorized and smoldering capital city. In a
similar way, a preacher can help us stake our claim in the bedrock of God’s faithfulness while realistically acknowledging that a “new” year gets old pretty fast.
In the June 2000 issue of Reformed Worship (RW 56), John Witvliet made the case that every
worship service is a renewal ceremony. Is there a better day to make this explicitly clear than New Year’s Day or the first Sunday of a new year?
In the liturgy that follows, the people remind each other of Scriptures that point us to new life in the Lord, receive a message about the only thing that is truly new every morning, and rededicate themselves to following Christ. The Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ (or Nicene) Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer (the three classic components of catechisms) help us begin another year with the basics of Christian belief. The Covenant Prayer attributed to seventeenth-century Puritans and published by John Wesley in 1753 has been used for years in the “Watch Night” service observed as a covenant renewal ceremony on New Year’s Eve or Day or on the first Sunday of a new year.
God’s People Gather
“Shout to the North” (The Best of the Best: The Other Songbook 2 197; © 2000 Fellowship Publications: www.thefellowship.com)
“Shout to the Lord” SNC 223
Call to Worship (based on Eccl. 1:9, Isa. 43:18-19; 62:2-4; Lam. 3:23; Luke 22:20; 2 Cor. 5:17)
What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, “Look, this is something new?”
Did not God say, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland”?
Yes, but . . .
Did God not say, “You will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. No longer will they call you Deserted or Desolate, but My Delight”?
That’s true, but . . .
Did Jeremiah not say, “The Lord’s compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness”?
Yes, but . . .
Did Jesus not invite us to experience new life in him at the last supper when he took a cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you”?
Well, yes, he did, but . . .
Because of him, we regard no one, we regard nothing, from a worldly point of view. There is something new under the sun. It is life in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thanks be to God! Let us together join in confessing and living out the new life God has given us in the Lord Jesus Christ.
If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
We Greet Each Other
Song: “Shout, for the Blessed Jesus Reigns” PsH 539, TH 369
Alternative song: “Sing, Sing a New Song to the Lord God”/“New Songs of Celebration Render” PsH 98, PH 218, RL 119, TH 14
God Speaks to Us
Prayer for the Spirit’s Guidance (UMBW, p. 289)
O God, Searcher of all our hearts, you have formed us as a people and claimed us for your own. As we come to acknowledge your sovereignty and grace, and to enter anew into covenant with you, reveal any reluctance or falsehood within us.
Let your Spirit impress your truth on our inmost being, and receive us in mercy, for the sake of our Mediator, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen
Scripture: Psalm 91
Song: “Lord, We Lift Your Name on High” SNC 157
Alternative song based on Psalm 91: “On Eagles’ Wings” SNC 185
Scripture: Lamentations 3:19-30
Message: “New Every Morning”
God Invites Our Response
Song: “The Steadfast Love of the Lord” SNC 242
Song: “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” PsH 253, RL 145, SFL 27, TH 53, TWC 77
Covenant Renewal Ceremony
Scripture: Romans 7:14-20
Song: “Good to Me” (SNC 71; first section only, stopping after “rescue me, O Lord”)
Scripture: Romans 8:1-4
Song: “Good to Me” (SNC 71; second half, starting with “You are my strength”)
Prayer for Covenant Renewal (UMBW, p. 291)
Lord, I put myself fully into your hands;
I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for you or laid aside for you,
exalted for you or brought low by you.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and with a willing heart yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
May this covenant I have made on earth be ratified in heaven. Amen.
Call to Discipleship
[In this section of the service, the pastor reads the Ten Commandments and Christ’s summary of the Law and invites everyone to respond to each command with “Amen. This is sure to be!” The congregation’s response to each command echoes the “Amens” of Israel’s covenant renewal ceremonies in Deuteronomy 27:14-26 and Nehemiah 8:5-6.]
Song: “Lead Me, Guide Me” PsH 544, SFL 220
Profession of Faith: Apostles’ Creed or Nicene Creed (spoken in unison)
Song: “We’ve Come This Far by Faith” PsH 567
The Lord’s Prayer
God Blesses Us on Our Way
In keeping with God’s promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. So then, dear friends, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless, and at peace with him. Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation. So be on your guard and grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Pet. 3:13-18)
May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Alleluia! Amen. (1 Thess. 5:23)
Doxology: “Shine, Jesus, Shine” SNC 128.
The year 2003 is both the 250th anniversary of Wesley’s Covenant Service and the 300th anniversary of the birth of John Wesley. For more on this historic service; see The United Methodist Book of Worship (UMBW, United Methodist Publishing House, 1989, pp. 288-294); the two prayers in the service below were adapted from that service. The United Methodist Church also encourages people to make a commitment to join a “Covenant Discipleship Group” for the new year. For more resources see www.gbod.org/smallgroup/covenant.