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Lent/Easter

December 2018

How to Make the Most of Your Subscription

It’s here—the next issue of Reformed Worship is literally (or metaphorically) in your hands. Now what? We want to make sure you get the most out of your subscription, so we put together this list of suggestions.

Everyday Jesus Spirituality

Customized Spiritual Disciplines

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.

Psalms of Ascent

A Service of Song and Prayer for Lent

"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."

Reliving the Passion in the Gospel of Mark

A Maundy Thursday Service

Gather in Silence

Cross Processional

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.

Journeying with Christ

Good Friday Participatory Stations

From Dust to Life

An Ash Wednesday Service

Why Ash Wednesday?

The Best Last Word

Two Easter Services Celebrating the Reality of the Resurrection
Article Resources: 

It's Easter. Again.

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?

Holy God, Holy Lives

A Worship Series for Lent

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.

Mental Illnesses and Worship: Prayer, Lament, Language, and Discipleship

A Conversation from the Calvin Symposium on Worship, Part Two of Two

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.

Worship with Reverence and Awe

The Surprising Word on Worship from Hebrews

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.

What Church Websites Communicate about Worship

Part Two of Two

In RW 129 I began a response to the following question:

Q

Our church is redesigning its website and asked for our worship team’s help with including materials related to worship. What advice does RW have?

A

Not My Hands

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.

December 2017

Seeing in the Dark

“We pray for darkness so that we may see” is one of many provocative lines in Rod Jellema’s poetic litany “Praying for Darkness in a Year of Glare” (p. 16). I wonder about that line. Is it true? Would I ever dare pray for darkness so that I might see? It seems to me that we’ve been experiencing too much of this world’s darkness. We can’t escape it. It consumes news outlets and social media feeds. It fills our workplaces, our homes, our churches . . .

Trumpets, Tears and Ashes

A Series on Habakkuk

Nicholas Wolterstorff says that Christian worship, like the Old Testament psalter, should include trumpets, tears, and ashes—that is, praise, lament and repentance. All too often, however, tears and ashes are absent from Christian preaching and worship.

The Lord Is My Shepherd

A Service of Song on Psalm 23 for Good Friday

Last year during Lent at St. Matthew’s Anglican Church (ANIC) in Abbotsford, British Columbia, we used “The Lord, Our Shepherd” series from Reformed Worship (Issue 66, December 2002). The series, based on Psalm 23, offered suggestions for a Maundy Thursday service but not one for Good Friday. Because we were worshiping on Good Friday we created a service that includes all of Psalm 23 along with related readings, choral music, and congregational singing. Because the King James Version of Psalm 23 is so well known we opted to use that version for the psalm. We also used objects representing the psalm’s themes that two dancers placed on a table up front before each reading. Young people in the congregation served as the readers. The original idea for this service came from John L. Bell’s reading of Psalm 23 during a vespers service at the Calvin Symposium on Worship in 2012.

The printed music available with this service comes from the free resource Praise God in the Heights: Descants by Larry Visser, available as a download through the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.

Checkmate: Through Death I'm Free

A Reflection on "What Wondrous Love Is This"

I was recently looking at the lyrics to the hymn “What Wondrous Love Is This” and was struck by the last verse. Do you know it? (Also see p. 12 of this issue.)

Praying for Darkness in a Year of Glare

A Poetic Litany for Lent

1st voice:

Parent God of all of us, hear our prayer
in this disruptive year: Lord, turn out the lights.
Turn out for moments of our prayers
and for moments of our lives
all the lights we see by,
or all the lights we think we see by.
Make it dark in here, even now, in each of us.

Jesus' Journey to the Cross

A Good Friday Service with Handwashing and the Lord's Supper

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.

Broken: A Tenebrae Service with Visuals

The Road of Suffering According to the Gospel of John
In considering art pieces that would capture the events leading to Christ’s death, the idea of using simple images and fabric came to mind. Textiles are flexible, offering texture and color. Each of the art pieces is made of cut fabric that has been woven or pinned together and stitched onto a base fabric. They were backed with quilt batting, then machine-stitched to add color and form. The color palette is limited for all seven pieces: Blacks and grays create a dark, foreboding atmosphere; teal contrasts with blood red.

The Art Pieces

Easter Celebration

A Service of Word and Song
This Easter worship service centers around the theme of celebration through festive music, the retelling of the resurrection story from the gospels, communion that focuses on hope and victory, and a commission to serve with joy. Worship leaders may choose from several musical selections and arrangements.

Celebrate As We Gather

Song: “A Resurrection Declaration” with choir, brass, and bells Roger Thornhill and Victor C. Johnson

The Joys and Perils of Reusing Sermons

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.

Refocusing and Reframing Practices

Using PreachingandWorship.org in Lent

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.

A Fulfilled Priestly Benediction

A Reflection on Worship's Closing Blessing

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.

Worship and Mental Health

Q

We are struggling in our ministry with many people in our congregation who have mental health concerns. We have responded to this pastorally, but not really in worship. Are there resources for engaging this in worship?

A

Divisions and Reconciliation

Prayer of Confession, Assurance of Pardon, and Affirmation of Unity

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.
—JB

Two Prayer Services

Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication

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

Acts: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication

An Interactive Service of Scripture, Song, and Prayer

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.

Technology and Worship

Reflections from a Worship Committee Meeting

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.

Pinterest? Uninterest?

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?

December 2016

Contemplate the Grave

“Weep not for me, Mother,
in the grave I have life.”

So begins the poem “Crucifixion” by Russian poet Anna Akhmatova (1889–1966). “In the grave I have life.” “Yes, but . . .” we want to argue. We feel compelled to interject that “but.” But Christ didn’t stay in the grave; we don’t stay in the grave; there is life on the other side of the grave, not in it. This is all true. Yet maybe Akhmatova was correct in calling our attention to the grave itself.

Freedom from Fear

A Series for Lent

Freedom from Fear” is a Lenten series created by Pella Reformed Church in Adams, Nebraska. Throughout the gospels Jesus tells his followers or those around him, “Do not be afraid.” Yet today fear plays an enormous part in our lives. We spent the season of Lent looking at the times where Jesus says, “Do not be afraid” and discovering what fears Jesus is releasing us from today.

A song you may choose to use for the whole series is “Don’t Be Afraid” LUYH 429 by John L. Bell of the Iona Community

The Final Hours

Experiencing the Stations of the Cross

Holy Week at Covenant Life Church, a Christian Reformed church in Grand Haven, Michigan, has taken on a very distinct shape over the last twelve years. Prior to celebrating the glory of the resurrection, we create space to dwell with Christ by way of an immersive Stations of the Cross experience. The Stations of the Cross have a long, storied history within the Christian faith. For us, our goal is to create an interactive, meditative, and multi-sensory journey with Jesus, walking with him in the final hours of his life, leading up to his death and resurrection.

Walk in His Steps

A Good Friday Liturgy

Approximately 2,016 years ago, God couldn’t walk.  He had to be carried everywhere, like most babies.

2,015 years ago, God took some staggering first steps, fell, and scraped his knee. He cried, and his mother wiped away his tears and told him to try again. Or maybe he still crawled everywhere. Some toddlers are late bloomers.

2,010 years ago, God ran across the street in a small town with the other kids, perhaps playing a version of soccer. He might not have been very good at it.

Called to New Life

A Service for Easter

Responsive Call to Worship: Psalm 150

The Light Dawns

An Easter Monologue

Scene 1

[If desired, you could have an individual or small group humming “Were You There?” underneath the monologue until the phrase “Lazarus! Come out!”]

Please step back with me to the first Easter morning. [head scarf on]

Worship From the Heart to the Heavens

A Song Service for Use between Ash Wednesday and Ascension Sunday

Worship from the Heart to the Heavens” has been a frequent and fertile theme over the many years that I have planned and led worship services with a focus on congregational song, both in North America and beyond. This theme is a testimony that we’re never alone when we worship God. We always worship in community as part of the body of Christ, not only when we are in a congregation with others, but also by ourselves, in our “closets.” That is a comforting truth!

The Holy Spirit in Worship

Beyond a “God of the Gaps”

Q

I hear a lot of colloquial language about the Holy Spirit that doesn’t feel right to me. For example, one of our leaders likes to say, “I didn’t have time to plan—what a great opportunity for the Holy Spirit.” What do you think?

A

A Primer on Congregational Fasting

Fasting is a practice that some people incorporate into their spiritual lives on a regular basis—even weekly. Scot McKnight defines fasting as “a whole-body response to a grievous sacred moment” (Fasting: The Ancient Practices, Thomas Nelson, 2009). But why should we fast? McKnight’s definition helps us understand why: to respond to something that is spiritual enough, and grievous enough, to merit such an action.

On Worship Technology

Incorporating evolving technology has been an ongoing theme in Christian worship for two thousand years. From the use of scrolls to the invention of the printing press, from the use of lanterns to the invention of electricity, and from use of a pipe organ to the invention of electric guitars, worshipers have always been adopting new technology in worship.

Celebrating the Reformation Graciously

Growing up in the countryside five miles outside Ada, Michigan, Roman Catholics were largely unknown to me. When I was about ten, my parents sold off a small chunk of the farmland they had bought some years before, and the Smith family built a house half a mile up the road from us. They went to St. Robert Catholic Church.

Worship Projection Update

I’m old enough to remember worship without projection or large displays. Oh, there were times when a really progressive pastor would lug a clunky overhead projector upfront and supplement his message with rough words or pictures drawn on clear sheets of plastic called “transparencies.” The bulbs were hot, and the fans keeping them cool were loud. And then there was the problem of the transparencies sliding off the glass at precisely the wrong time.

December 2015

It Feels Like Lent: Where Is Easter?

If you are an RW subscriber and are reading this article shortly after it arrived in your mailbox, you are reading this in the midst of Advent. Though it isn’t Lent as I write this editorial either, in many ways it feels like Lent, and I wonder: where is Easter?

Jesus Is Greater

A Lenten Series Based on the Book of Hebrews

People both inside and outside of the church often have a view of Jesus that is too small. Some of those outside the church reduce Jesus to a zealot or a moral teacher, while some Christians view him only as a necessary sacrifice or a helpful example. In order to truly worship Jesus as Lord, we need to see him in his proper place as the Son of God.

Article Resources: 

Painting the Lenten Journey

Giving up sweets, deleting social media accounts, vowing to exercise more—these are trendy Lenten practices to adopt. Kicking off the season with a paintbrush and scrap pieces of fabric in hand? That one might be less familiar.

Smocking up to get your hands messy with paint and glue may not be your go-to spiritual practice. But for a few members of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, diving deep into the creative layers of Lent is exactly how they chose to enter the season.

Psalms to Sustain Us from Gethsemane to Golgotha

“When Jesus expressed his anguish on the cross with the words of Psalm 22, he highlighted one of the precious facets of the psalms in general, namely, that as songs they uniquely convey the inward depths of the soul, and especially of Christ’s soul. Not only do the psalms help shape our response to God in the trials and joys of life, they also reveal to us something of the inner life of Jesus Christ, glimpses we do not have through the gospels alone.”
(L. Michael Morales, Jesus and the Psalms)

Nothing but the Blood

A Dramatic Retelling of the Events of Holy Week

This service was planned using art by John August Swanson as described below. More information about purchasing, rights, and the works themselves can be found at johnaugustswanson.com. A CD called “What Wondrous Love” with these images and more is available at eyekons.com/church_image_banks/cd_collections.

Ever Ancient, Ever New

Rediscovering the Beauty of Chant

Few sounds are as evocative of contemplation and prayer in the Christian imagination as the sound of plainchant, the music that was born in the ancient church. Its purpose was to glorify God, lifting up the hearts of those who sing and of those who hear it. Just as the Western church has inherited a vast legacy of Gregorian chant, which is the basis of written Western music as we know it, rich traditions of cantillation as a spiritual practice also exist in many other faith traditions.

The Lord's Supper on Good Friday: Yes and No

The Lord's Supper on Good Friday: YES

It had been nine months since I had arrived at Ancaster Christian Reformed Church, and I was still walking that fine line between “that’s how we’ve always done it” and “that sounds like a great idea.” This was to be the first time I would travel the Lenten journey with my new congregation, and I was looking forward to celebrating with them that capstone of our faith: Easter morning.

Disciples Follow

If you peruse the most popular Christian book titles, or if you check out what pastors and church consultants are blogging about, or if you read the titles of plenary speeches and workshops at Christian conferences, then you will quickly discern one of the hottest current topics in Christian circles: leadership. Everyone wants to be a leader. Everyone wants to be an effective leader.

Confession, Assurance, and the Seven Deadly Sins

Over the last few years, and particularly in the last few months, I have noticed an increase in the discussion about and desire for more times of confession in worship. There was a time when churches were discouraged from “airing their dirty laundry” during worship because confession wasn’t seeker friendly. The corporate act of confession also didn’t seem to fit with our individualistic ideas of sin and responsibility.

The Pastoral Challenges of Summer

Q

Looking ahead to summer, I am already frustrated by how many of our church members will be gone. Whatever happened to loyalty to a congregation? Do people realize what a burden this creates for those of us who remain at home?

Q

More than a Fiesta

Paying Attention to Latino Protestant Congregations

The Gift of the Felon

“I wish the church knew how deeply God can change your life,” Mark said. His friends nodded in agreement around the lunch table, sharing a common meal of tacos and a common story of returning back to their communities after serving time in prison.

An Echo of the Voice of God

The Hymns of Adam M. L. Tice

Adam Merrill Longoria Tice was born in western Pennsylvania on October 11, 1979, and was raised in Alabama, Oregon, and Indiana. He is a graduate of Goshen College in Goshen, Indiana, (2002, major in music composition), and the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana (2006, M.A. in Christian formation). From 2007 to 2012 he served as associate pastor of Hyattsville Mennonite Church in Hyattsville, Maryland (near Washington, D.C.), and since 2012 has lived with his family in Goshen, Indiana.

December 2014

Standing in the Gap

I am glad I wasn’t one of those first disciples. I can’t imagine journeying with Christ through what we call Holy Week without knowing the end of the story. Can you imagine thinking that the cross was the end?

Metamorphosis

Becoming a Christian Character

What is the goal of the Christian life? For some, the goal is belief itself, followed by entering into the community of such belief: the church. Once they are “in” with God’s chosen people, they feel they have arrived.

Undying Life

The Work of Art Evangelist Floyd Elzinga

Unto Us a Messiah is Given

A Good Friday Service

This Good Friday service, which is based on the names of Jesus in Isaiah 9, combines teaching with Scripture and song. It’s a quiet, meditative service meant to provoke deep reflection, so consider lowering the lights in the sanctuary and asking congregants to enter and exit in silence.

Matthew Walks Through the Shadows

A Service of Tenebrae

This service of shadows follows Matthew after he abandoned Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. We imagine that Matthew follows the path that Jesus took, speaking with 12 people who each tell him a part of the crucifixion story. As they talk about the events that have taken place, Matthew is reminded of prophecies from Isaiah, from the psalms, and from the words of Jesus himself as he foretold his death.

The Day God Grew

In this drama, loosely based on Matthew 27:55-61 and 28:1-10, Mary Magdalene (MM) and “the other Mary” reflect on their time with Jesus and the events of Easter morning.
While the details of these two women’s lives are unclear, what isn’t disputed is the fact that they traveled with Jesus and the disciples and played a significant role in the resurrection narrative and message.

The Rooster's Crow

Convicted by the rooster’s crow,
I was his friend, now was his foe.
Jesus, my master, stood so near,
yet I found no comfort, only fear.

Thrice they asked me if I knew,
“Weren’t you one of his followers few?”
Thrice I said, “I do not know!”
I denied him so they’d let it go.

See with the Eyes of God

The Music of Dan Damon

Dan Damon is an author/composer who knows and understands the tradition of hymn-writing but is able to infuse it with creative post-modern thought—and vice versa. While his texts are to the point, they do not indulge in stark language merely for shock value or to prove their “relevance.” And Damon’s tunes, notable for their diversity, are singable and supportive of the text.

Praying for Them

Lifting Our Enemies to God

Names for Public Worship in a Multilingual World: Playing with Language

Q

The term “praise team” seems so limiting.
Isn’t there a better alternative?

A

Punjabi Psalms

An Interview with Eric Sarwar, Part 1

In 2009, Emily Brink and Paul Neeley participated in two worship conferences in Pakistan co-sponsored by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship (CICW) and the Tehillim School of Church Music and Worship (TSCM). Rev. Eric Sarwar, a pastor in the Presbyterian Church of Pakistan and founder of TSCM, arranged both conferences, one at the Presbyterian Seminary in Gujranwala, and the other hosted by Christ the King Roman Catholic Seminary in Karachi.

Article Resources: 

Be Still and Know

This litany encourages us to acknowledge the frantic pace of our lives, remember that God knows us inside and out, and take time to be still.

Leader: We sit here trying our best to steady ourselves for an hour or two, but you know us, Lord. You know the distractions that tug at our minds, the worries that vie for our attention, the burdens that betray our affections.