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December 2009

Imagine . . .

Imagine you are Job. What are you thinking, feeling, and experiencing as you live through the loss of your property and your family? How do you experience the grief and then the questioning of your friends? How do you relate to God?

Imagine you are the centurion watching yet another crucifixion. But this one is different . . . why? How does it feel to be forgiven by the one you have put to death? What do you make of the eerie darkness and the earthquake?

Imagine you are Mary. Your heart is crushed by the sight of your son dying. How do you bear it?

News and Notes

CRC/RCA Hymnal Gets a Name!

Lift Up Your Hearts: Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs is the name of the hymnal to be published by Faith Alive Christian Resources in 2013.

In our planning discussions the term “heart songs” comes up repeatedly. It is our prayer that the songs in this collection will represent the songs that reside in the hearts of people. These heart songs can be confessions, praises, laments, words of adoration, and psalms and contemporary, global, ancient, or hymn-like.

Taste and See

A Lenten Worship Series

The comforting smell of baking bread may evoke childhood memories of your mother’s kitchen or remind you of leisurely Saturday mornings sitting at the local bakery with the newspaper and a cup of coffee. But few people associate that lovely aroma with church services, even though bread figures prominently in worship.

When We Were Yet Speechless

Saturday night, the night before Easter, about forty-five of us gathered in the dusk in the narthex outside the sanctuary doors. We settled ourselves and began to gather our hearts for worship—a new service—a kind of modified Easter Vigil for us to try. The sanctuary doors opened to reveal a path of light—tiny votive candles perched on the side of each pew—making a pathway of light through the dim and dark sanctuary.

A Season of "Social Capital"

Seven Easter Services around Seven Tables in Luke and Acts

Have you ever dined with a Muslim? Or with a person from South Africa? Ever shared a meal with a homeless person or with the mayor of the town or city where you live? The answers to these deceptively simple questions communicate more about our “social capital” than we might at first expect.

In recent years the term “social capital” has become a buzz phrase with many different definitions. Most of these definitions refer to human relationships within society and distinguish between three different kinds of social capital: bonding, bridging, and linking.

By His Stripes

Many churches drape a strip of cloth on the cross in their worship space during Lent. Sometimes a black cloth for Good Friday is changed to a white cloth for Easter. Amazing, isn’t it, how making such a small addition to something we’re so used to seeing can be so noticeable!

The visual presented here builds on this idea but adds a bit of coarseness and texture to your cross, which, if your church is anything like mine, is a finely polished and architecturally appropriate symbol of the blood-stained boards our Savior was hung on.

Make Haste to Help Me

An Ash Wednesday Service with Psalm 38

[During this service, the sanctuary doors will remain closed. The ushers stand outside the doors to encourage people to enter the sanctuary in reverent silence.]

Call to Worship: “Be Still, for the Presence” SNC 11 Stanza 1, sung by soloist

Scripture Reading: selected verses from Psalm 38

Answering the Questions or Questioning the Answers?

A Series on the Book of Job

The story of Job is the story of a man who lived long ago and far away in the country of Uz. But it is also the story of every person who has ever tried to make sense of undeserved suffering and the seeming absence of God. It’s a powerful story of deep faith in tragic times.

The book of Job challenges our ideas about how life should be lived and who God is. The story seizes us, demands our imagination, and refuses to let go until we have wrestled with the same life-shaping questions that haunt the main character.

Praying the Headlines

Engaging Students in Intercession

It’s no secret that students are attracted to visual media. Images from television, video games, mobile phones, and the Internet saturate their days and nights. They use images to communicate with their friends. They learn with visuals in the classroom. They entertain themselves with pictures and animation.

From Sacrifice to Communion

A Good Friday Service Celebrating the Way of the Cross

This Good Friday service focuses on Mark 14-15. As Jesus cries out from the cross, the curtain of the temple tears from top to bottom, opening the way into the Holy of Holies. The service begins with the Old Testament background of the tabernacle and temple and culminates in communion in the most holy presence of God, not just for the High Priest, but for everyone who comes by way of the cross.

It Is Finished

A Good Friday Reader's Theater

What did Jesus mean when he said “It is finished”? This readers’ theater examines the multiple meanings of that phrase. It would work well in any Good Friday service, but is especially appropriate as part of a service on the Last Words of Christ (see RW 14 and 78 for service ideas on the Last Words). —JB

[As readers’ theater begins, a cellist plays “Man of Sorrows” in the background.]

Beneath the Cross

Good Friday Worship with Story, Song, Sermon, and Supper

Our worship planning team decided to present the story of Jesus’ betrayal, death, and burial from the perspectives of those who were there. We chose six characters from the passion narratives and asked six people from the congregation to tell their stories. They were encouraged to immerse themselves in their character by reading the Scripture passage and by familiarizing themselves with the dramatic reading—even memorizing it, if they chose.

A Strange Community

Telling the Good Friday Story

This service is designed for use on Good Friday, but it would also be appropriate for use throughout the Lenten season. As it stands, the service runs about forty minutes, although it could be lengthened by the addition of extra anthems. We used one reader for the Scripture lessons and different readers for each of the reflections, although it could also be done the other way around. Scripture readings were taken from The Message.

Prelude

Call to Worship

Songs for Lent and Easter

Jesus Is Lord; Have Mercy on Us, Lord; Don't Be Afraid; Far from Home We Run, Rebellious; Gospel Acclamation: Hallelujah, Hallelujah

None of these songs can be called traditional hymns. Three of them are very short—just right for inviting churches (and schools!) to introduce them to children and for repeated use by the congregation during Lent or Eastertide. The other two songs are longer; they’re directly tied to Scripture passages scheduled for Year C in the Revised Common Lectionary that begins with Advent 2009.

Crucified--by My Hand

Lenten Monologues of Nicodemus and the Centurion

Some time before Lent our pastor, Al Van Dellen, announced the theme of his Lenten messages: “Crucified—by My Hand.” The topics were Judas, Nicodemus, Peter, and the Centurion. I immediately thought of the wonderful readings from the drama “We Were There” by Marla Ehlers (see RW 58). We used Ehlers’s portrayals of Judas and Peter on the appropriate Sundays, and I wrote readings for Nicodemus and the Centurion, along with a service plan for the Centurion. I’m hoping others may find these useful!

A Love Stronger Than Death

Celebrating Easter with Anthems and Texts from the Song of Songs

Celebrating Easter with the Song of Songs may seem to be an unlikely pairing at first. But since we proclaim Christ as the consummate lover of the collective church and the individual soul, what could be more natural?

Text Message Worship

Plugging Students into Holy Week

In our church, two very different things came together to form the idea of a text message worship experience.

First, my fellow high school youth group leaders and I noticed that we spend a lot of time “policing” cell phone use during youth group events. Kids are constantly texting each other, even when they’re sitting just a few feet from each other! Second, we wanted to try making the season of Lent—and particularly Holy Week—more of a focus for our students.

Worship in Calvin's Geneva

This year I have enjoyed participating in events celebrating John Calvin’s five hundredth birthday in Pittsburgh, Toronto, Grand Rapids, and Montreat. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the keen interest in Calvin’s approach to worship. Here are brief answers to some of the most commonly asked questions I’ve received during these celebrations.

Q What are some of the biggest differences between being a Christian in Geneva in the sixteenth century and being a Christian in North America today?

Reviews

Sing with the World: Global Songs for Children
Compiled by John L. Bell and Alison Adam. Glasgow: Wild Goose Resource Group, Iona Community, 2008. GIA Publications, Inc., exclusive North American Agent. Spiral song book (G-7339) and CD (CD-771). To order go to www.giamusic.com or call 1-800-442-1358.