Over the years in this space we’ve talked about inspiration—where and how and when we’re moved to make something new and fresh. For me recently, it was a something very old: the song “Not What My Hands Have Done,” LUYH 624, PsH 260 written in the 1860s by Horatius Bonar. There were fewer than twenty people at a staff retreat where this song was part of the morning’s opening worship.
What would it look like to offer up worship with reverence and awe? Well, it may not be quite what you expect! It certainly wasn’t what I expected as I opened up Hebrews with a group of Christians some time ago. Don’t get me wrong; I knew the “golden verse” on why we do church at all was in there (“Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing” (Hebrews 10:24–25, NIV). That was no shocker, and I think most of us knew it practically by heart.
The following discussion is from the second part of a session led by Dr. Charlotte vanOyen Witvliet, Rev. Cindy Holtrop, Dr. Warren Kinghorn, and Dr. John Swinton at the Calvin Symposium on Worship in January 2018. The first section appeared in Reformed Worship 129 and dealt with the promises and pitfalls around public worship and mental health. The rest of the session focuses on prayer.
Leviticus is one of the most underread and underappreciated books of the whole Bible. Pastors who choose a sermon text from Leviticus might expect their listeners’ eyes to glaze over as they anticipate a scholarly description of outdated laws pertaining to everything from mold and mildew to skin disease and bodily fluids. Leviticus also includes descriptions of violent and bloody sacrifices, thou-shalt-not rules on shellfish, and instructions for days set apart for special observance each week, month, and year.
The Same Old Story
It always felt wrong, and I thought maybe it was just me. But then I heard similar musings from fellow pastors who also felt guilty about it. Easter, after all, is the liturgical high point in the Christian year. More so even than Christmas, Easter sees churches packed to overflowing. So why as a pastor did I sometimes see Easter Sunday coming down the pike and feel a sense of . . . well, not dread, but a certain heaviness—the kind of thing that could wring a sigh or two from me?
Gather in Silence
Call to Worship
The grace and peace of the Lord be with you.
And also with you.
O crucified Jesus,
Son of the Father,
conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
eternal Word of God,
we worship you.
O crucified Jesus,
holy temple of God,
dwelling place of the Most High,
we adore you.
"A psalm is the blessing of the people, the praise of God, the commendation of the multitude, the applause of all, the speech of every man, the voice of the Church, the sonorous profession of faith, devotion full of authority, the joy of liberty, the noise of good cheer, and the echo of gladness. It softens anger, it gives release from anxiety, it alleviates sorrow; it is protection at night, instruction by day, a shield in time of fear, a feast of holiness, the image of tranquility, a pledge of peace and harmony."
One of my students decided to practice a new spiritual discipline: Rather than gazing down at his shoes, he would look up when walking the university halls and greet others walking by. He said this was difficult for him, even at a Christian institution, as he was shy and awkward. But this discipline, he discerned, would shape him to be more like Christ and maybe touch the heart of someone in need of friendly recognition. It’s a small thing, but our spirits are shaped by small things repeated over long periods of time, and he hoped this practice would shape his character for good.
I tend to be a bit wary of trends that get too popular too fast. Pinterest, the online social networking app for collecting and sharing ideas visually, was one I was certain wasn’t a good thing—especially for “serious” artists working with visuals for worship. Serious artists—that’s us, right?
Our worship team was brainstorming one night in response to a facilities improvement survey. We talked about the way our sanctuary and the rest of our buildings don’t flow well—they seem strung together. This is true for many churches: Education wings were a second thought after the sanctuary, and additional space—from kitchens to gyms to side chapels—are tagged on as years and needs accumulate. Things change, sometimes without much thought about the overall impact of the build-up of small changes over time.
As Christians we often struggle with how to pray communally. Simply, it is hearing God speak to us in God’s Word and through God’s creation and then responding. This service was written to help the body engage in the dialogue of prayer together following the simple acronym ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. The service is designed to focus first on God. As we focus on how great God is and on the wonders of God’s salvation, we are drawn to confess our sins and failures. Standing in wonder of the forgiveness God offers when we confess, we rejoice and offer thanksgiving. Finally we recognize our need for God in all areas of life and bring our requests to God, knowing God is faithful and good.
Here you will find two services based on the same prayer outline: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. These services are meant to be fairly simple, with opportunities to pray through Scripture and song. Neither service includes a sermon, but one could easily be added as a reflection on one of the Scripture passages. —JB
We are a fractured people living in a fractured world. All too often we gather on Sunday to worship against the backdrop of division—something happening in our church, our community, or our nation that is dividing us. Sometimes these divisions appear on the evening news or our Facebook feed, but even when they don’t rise to prominence, even when they are so commonplace they barely raise an eyebrow, we need to find words to come before God and confess. We need to confess not only how we have personally contributed to these divisions, but also the ways in which the church, our nation, and the systems all around us are complicit. But we also need to hear the good news: that there is another way, that our God is a reconciling God, that in Christ we are all made one. Then we must commit to doing what we can to break down barriers and work towards unity. I wish we only needed to do this once. Sadly, this is a practice we may need to do more often in our churches. But sometimes it is hard to know what to say, so we are grateful for this resource prepared by Jenni Breems.
A Scriptural Pattern of Divine Blessing
In the Christian tradition in which I grew up, worship services began and ended with a prayer. The faith-nurturing I received there also included my pastor’s encouragement to read through the Bible every year. I did that several times before experiencing a different worship style that began with a divine blessing and ended with a benediction.
Lent is a time to refocus and reframe our practices, clearing spaces in our minds and hearts to see and grasp anew the self-giving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. But for those involved in preparing worship for Lent this is a busy time of trying to balance preparing for Holy Week with church programs and initiatives that are in full swing. It may seem as though the work is piling dangerously high. We are tired. We are weary. We are worn. Yet week in and week out we find ourselves in the trenches of our busy and relentless church life.
For a long time—the thirty years and more that I was the pastor of the same church—I prided myself in never preaching the same sermon twice. There were exceptions, of course. If I went off somewhere on vacation or for some other reason and was given the opportunity to preach, I took with me a sermon or two, usually a recent sermon, adapted it some for the new place, and preached it over again. These occasions were rarely wholly satisfying. The message, usually part of a series, often seemed slightly off in a new context and preached to people I hardly knew.
Celebrate As We Gather
Song: “A Resurrection Declaration” with choir, brass, and bells Roger Thornhill and Victor C. Johnson
The Art Pieces
At Bethel Christian Reformed Church, we planned a Good Friday service incorporating elements of handwashing, the Lord’s Supper, and the carrying of the cross. The handwashing ceremony, which occurred at the entrances of the sanctuary, recalled Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. The Lord’s Supper was celebrated early in the service, where it fit into the narrative of the Last Supper before the crucifixion of Christ. As Scripture passages were read throughout the service, a cross was carried slowly to the front of the sanctuary and placed there to symbolize Golgotha. Lights in the sanctuary were gradually dimmed as the songs were sung. At the end of the service, the congregation gathered at the front around the cross for a time of silent reflection in a dimmed environment.
The service engaged the congregation visually, through movement, with singing, and in silence.
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