Weekly Worship Thought – Prayer for an Inauguration

GalileeLutheran_ELWAlmighty God, you have given us this good land as our heritage. Make us always remember your generosity and constantly do your will. Bless our land with honesty in the workplace, truth in education, and honor in daily life. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance; and from every evil course of action. When times are prosperous, let our hearts be thankful; and, in troubled times, do not let our trust in you fail. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 77 (©2006 Augsburg Fortress)

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Q&R: Which contemporary songs should we introduce to our church?

477039_381357365243443_143418169037365_1103810_100449478_oQuestion: 

We are in desperate need of introducing some contemporary music into our worship services. I do know contemporary music but have no clue about what works best in a room full of folks, many of whom do not know contemporary Christian music. We do a few songs:  As the Deer, Seek Ye First, Sanctuary, and a few others here and there.  My organist insists they can do the contemporary music, but the few times we have done it it has fallen flat. I can’t tell you why. So, here is my question: if we were to introduce maybe 10 new contemporary songs to our congregation to be used in worship, which 10 would you suggest?  Of course theology matters, but so does singability and teachability.
Response:
To start, I would definitely recommend you sign up your musician and any singers that are interested for the Tune Up worship band gathering: http://TuneUpGathering.org – they will learn some new songs, and rub shoulders with other church musicians who are doing this same thing.
I’ll say that successfully pulling off contemporary music is a challenge. Especially for a church organist. There are lots of reasons why: the rhythmic language of contemp. music is different than traditional hymnody. Also many contemp. songs are written and presented by guitar driven bands, and without that instrument (as well as drums) they can fall flat. 
But there are some “bridge” songs that can get you started in the right direction. Songs that work well with piano and are easy to learn for an assembly that is unfamiliar with the style. The ones you listed (especially As the Deer) are good. If you’re using Evangelical Lutheran Worship in the pews, take advantage of some of the music in there: 
857 Lord, I Lift Your Name on High
821 Shout to the Lord
483 Here Is Bread
And even some of the multicultural music works well and is “new” in a sense, if you’re not already using them:
817 You Have Come Down to the Lakeshore
491 Come, Let Us Eat
525 You Are Holy
Here are some other songs outside of ELW, found through a website: CCLI.com:
10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord) – Matt Redman
How Great Is Our God – Chris Tomlin
Blessed Be Your Name – Matt Redman
Here I Am to Worship – Tim Hughes
Your Grace Is Enough – Matt Maher
Holy Is the Lord – Chris Tomlin
Jesus Messiah – Chris Tomlin
Hopefully that is something to get you started. Theologically, most contemp. songs are fine. A few are not. The biggest problem I run into is they can be less than gender inclusive (God = He) and put way too much emphasis on substitutionary atonement theory (as opposed to a Christus Victor theme). Some contemp. songs are engaging Biblical themes and images unexplored in traditional hymnody. However, a consistent diet of contemp. songs will not be as full, or rich a theological expression as hymnody would be. For example, if you’re looking for contemp. songs that mention the Trinity (a core doctrine of Christianity), you’ll have to look hard (but they are there). 

Why do we have three extra services during Holy Week?

easter-10-0Every year during Holy Week, the week between Palm Sunday and Easter (falling on March 24-31 this year), we hold three unique worship services. These services are known as the Three Days, or the Triduum. “The Three Days encompass the time from Maundy Thursday evening through the evening of Easter Day. In particular, the services of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Vigil of Easter unfold in a single movement, as the church each year makes the passage with Christ through death into life.” (Excerpt from Evangelical Lutheran Worship, Augsburg Fortress, 2006, p. 247)
“If we are to rethink what we do in the present and plan for the future, it is useful to begin by knowing the past. What were the liturgies of Lent and the Three Days like in the beginning, and how did they come to have the forms familiar to many of us today? 
Christian historians tell us that, in the decades after the life of Jesus, Christians met each week for a meal that celebrated the presence of the risen Christ. Then we hear the apostle Paul, writing in the 50s, scolding the Corinthians because their celebrative gatherings seem to have forgotten both the death of Christ and the situation of the poor. By the second century, in addition to this weekly celebration of Christ’s resurrection, many Christians had designed also an annual festival, at which they adapted the Jewish Passover to commemorate both the death and resurrection of Christ. At this event, the stories of creation and the exodus were read along with the New Testament accounts of Jesus as ways to proclaim new life in Christ. In the fourth century, it was agreed to keep this annual Christian Passover always on a Sunday. 
By the fifth and sixth centuries, a pattern had become common throughout the Christian communities: the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ was observed over a three-day service. Part 1, Maundy Thursday, was kept to recall Christ’s meal with his disciples; part 2, Good Friday, was a simple day to pray 
and to honor the crucified Christ; and part 3, the Vigil of Easter, was the climax of the event, with springtime bonfire, many biblical readings, multiple baptisms, and the first eucharist, of Easter. The Vigil of Easter was the central liturgy of the year and the primary occasion for all baptisms, since being 
Christian was about embodying the death and resurrection of Christ.” (Excerpt from Worship Guidebook for Lent and Three Days, Augsburg Fortress, 2009, p. 11-12)
Let me encourage you to prioritize the Three Days this year. Make an effort to attend all of the services during Holy Week: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil, and Easter Sunday. It may seem like more church than you can handle! I can certainly appreciate that feeling. The Three Days, however, are the principle celebration of the Christian church. These services are the best way to connect your personal spiritual journey to the corporate experience of passing with Christ through death into life.

Ashes to Ashes

palms for ash wednesday

“Images from the Ash Wednesday liturgy are spoken over bodies not only in church buildings at the beginning of Lent but also outdoors in all seasons of the year: “We commit this body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust” (ELW, p. 284). In the funeral liturgy, such words are spoken after the body is laid in the grave and as earth is cast onto the coffin, or as ashes are placed in the earth or into a columbarium. Each year, the Ash Wednesday liturgy offers every member of the church words and a gesture that seem to have arrived, ahead of time, from our own funeral liturgy. Earth is placed on our bodies, scriptural words about the inevitable decomposition of our bodies are spoken over us: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Among the many things that Ash Wednesday accomplishes is a small-scale, ritualized, near-death experience.” (Excerpt from Worship Guidebook for Lent and Three Days, Augsburg Fortress, 2009, p. 18)

In seminary I had a systematic theology professor who often welcomed us to class with these words: “Greetings, frail creatures of dust!” Now, that may seem like an odd way to welcome people, but it has a theological underscoring that is significant. In the end, after all is said and done, we go back to being what we were all along – dust.

Ash Wednesday (February 13) is the first day of Lent in our liturgical calendar. It occurs 46 days before Easter. The precise date of Ash Wednesday is always moveable, falling on a different date each year because it is dependent on the date of Easter. Why 46 days? According to the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the desert before the beginning of his public ministry. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of this 40-day liturgical period of prayer and fasting. Why are there an extra six days? Because there are six Sundays during the season of Lent, and every Sunday is the day of resurrection (a little Easter). On Sundays the fast of Lent is broken in celebration of the resurrection.

Ash Wednesday gets its name from the practice of placing ashes on the forehead as a sign of mourning and repentance to God. The ashes used are typically created from the burnt palms of the previous year’s Palm Sunday services.

Historically, Ash Wednesday and the following season of Lent was the time of final preparations for baptism. Catechumens, people desiring to join the church and receiving instruction about the Christian faith, experienced an intense time of prayer, fasting, exorcisms, and teaching. Finally, at dawn on Easter Sunday, after an all night Vigil, the catechumens were baptized and welcomed into the body of Christ by participating in the Eucharist for the first time. Ash Wednesday was the beginning of a season of life, death, and renewal.

But why do we have to be so morbid about it? Because no matter how much wealth, no matter how many material possessions, no matter how much plastic surgery, no matter how much exercise and fitness, no matter how much success, no matter how much fame and notoriety, in the end, we go back to being what we were all along – dust.

Narrative Worship Script

Some Assembly RequiredDuring the month of August at Faith Lutheran Church, we are in a message series called “Some Assembly Required” (borrowed from the Synod Assembly title that I jokingly came up with). It is a four week series on worship, with each week taking up a different fold of the service:

  • August 5 – “Gathering: Worship and the Stranger”
  • August 12 – “Word: The Narrative of Worship”
  • August 19 – “Meal: The Down to Earth God”
  • August 26 – “Sending: Worship on the Way”

As part of the series, we decided to include a “narrative” script during each service that describes the significance of each action of worship. It works as a running commentary of the “whys” of the worship service. We printed the narration into the worship bulletins, and had a person read the narration aloud during the service.

Sources for the script include Evangelical Lutheran Worship (pg. 91-93), Musicians Guide to Evangelical Lutheran Worship (pg. 8-13), and original material.

Download Narrative Worship Script PDF

(before the Welcome/Announcements)
The basic pattern of this service – gathering, word, meal, sending – is a structure that originates from the earliest documented Christian liturgies. It is also a pattern we can observe in how God interacts with people throughout the Bible. As the people of God, we are joined together by the gifts of God’s grace, for the sake of the gospel, into the life of the one triune God.

(before the Confession and Forgiveness)
As we gather together as the body of Christ, we are reminded that Sunday is the day of Christ’s resurrection. We are assembled, brought together from different places, as a witness to the risen of body of Christ, active and moving in the world today. We begin in humility, confessing our sin and hearing God’s word of forgiveness.

(before the Gathering Hymn)
Singing during our gathering includes both hymns old and new. The songs that gather us together surround and support a people who come to worship with different frames of reference and different emotions. The gathering song moves each individual into the communal experience and purpose of worship.

(before the Greeting and Prayer of the Day)
During the gathering, the presiding minister and the assembly greet each other in the name of the triune God. The presiding minister gathers the assembly into prayer. All of worship is based on the foundation of prayer and can be understood as dialogue with God.

(before the First Reading)
The word of God is proclaimed within and by the gathered assembly. The first Bible reading, usually from the Old Testament, is followed by a psalm sung in response. This pattern of proclaiming the word is as ancient as the synagogue worship of the Jewish people.

(before the Psalm)
From their origin, the psalms were intended to be sung. Certainly the meaning of the text can be communicated when spoken, but the quality of this ancient poetry is inherently musical.

(before the Second Reading)
The second reading, usually from the New Testament letters, bears the witness of the early church. After the second reading, we stand to greet the gospel and sing an acclamation.

(before the Gospel Acclamation and Reading)
Christians have inherited the practice of publicly reciting the appointed biblical texts and responding to the recitation with singing. The read-sing-read-sing sequence continues. The gospel acclamation consists of two parts, alleluia and a verse of scripture, which acclaim the living Word, Jesus Christ, present in the gospel reading.

(before the Message)
Preaching brings God’s word of law and gospel into our time and place to awaken and nourish faith.

(before the Hymn of the Day)
God’s word is further proclaimed as we sing our faith aloud. The hymn of the day is the principal hymn of the service and is a distinctively Lutheran element in the liturgy. The assembly participates in proclaiming and responding to the word of God with a common voice.  The hymn of the day typically relates directly to the season or day, the lectionary readings, or the preaching.

(before the Prayers of Intercession)
As the assembly prays for the whole world, we remember we have a high priest who continually intercedes for us. The prayers follow a pattern that encourages us to turn our hearts and eyes outward to the world. We pray for the needs of the church, for all of creation and the people of the world, for those in need, and for the local community. We also give thanks for the lives of the saints who inspire us in our pilgrimage.

(before Sharing Christ’s Peace)
Passing the peace of Christ is an ancient component of Christian worship and liturgy. Our modern day version of peace passing is descended from an earlier act of worship known as “the kiss of peace.” The practice of verbally and physically sharing Christ’s peace trains ours hearts, hands, and tongues in the ways of peace.

(before the Offering, Choral Offering, Offertory Response, and Offering Prayer)
A collection of material goods for the church’s mission, including the care of those in need, is a sign of the giving of our whole selves in grateful response for all God’s gifts. The table is set with bread and wine, also part of the gifts we offer to God. The choir provides an offering of music, a sacrifice of praise.

(before the Dialogue, Preface, and Holy, Holy, Holy)
Before the Lord’s supper is shared, the presiding minister leads us into thanksgiving. The words of the opening dialogue are known as the “Sursum Corda,” which is Latin for “hearts lifted.” This dialogue is found in the most ancient of Christian liturgies, dating all the way to the third century. The presiding minister and assembly exchange a formal greeting. Then the assembly is invited to lift their hearts to God. The final exchange indicates the assembly’s agreement to the presiding minister continuing to offer the remainder of the Eucharistic Prayer on their behalf. The proper preface follows, which relates to the liturgical season or day. The assembly then joins with the whole creation in singing the angels’ song: “Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might.”

(before the Words of Institution and Lord’s Prayer)
The grace of God’s gift is always proclaimed in Jesus’ own words of command and promise at the table. The term “Eucharist” comes from the Greek word meaning “thanksgiving.” The service of Holy Communion is connected to every meal in which Jesus gave thanks before breaking bread. The thanksgiving concludes with the prayer our Lord Jesus taught us.

(before Sharing the Meal and Prayer after Communion)
In Christ’s body and blood given to us, God forgives us and nourishes us for mission. We sing as the bread is broken and as the meal is shared. After sharing the meal, we pray, asking God to send us in witness to the world.

(before the Benediction, Sending Hymn, and Dismissal)
God’s mission sends us out. God’s mission includes the gifts of grace that we share in worship. Now, we are sent to continue our participation in God’s mission by sharing these gifts of grace with the world. With the blessing of God, we go out to live as Christ’s body in the world.

There Is a Balm in Gilead

ThereIsBalmGileaArr (2)

One of my favorite hymns is “There Is a Balm in Gilead.” There is a depth to this hymn that expresses a longing for healing and wholeness. It acknowledges that there is a wellness in Jesus Christ that goes beyond physical healing and reaches into our very souls and even the entirety of creation.

“Balm of Gilead” was an aromatic medicinal ointment. Jeremiah 8:22 asks, “Is there no balm in Gilead?” The refrain of this African American spiritual answers the question: “There is a balm in Gilead.” At first blush that seems like a strange answer, because the stanzas seem unconnected to it, until you realize that they tell you where the balm is located.

It is not in Gilead or in any place in this world where horrible things like oppression and lynchings happen. No, it is the Holy Spirit who “revives my soul,” and it is Jesus who “is your friend” and “died for
all.”

This means that if you know where hope is found—namely, in God—the balm is paradoxically precisely in Gilead and in every other
place in this world. Or, as James Cone said when he cited this spiritual, “Hope, in the black spirituals, is not a denial of history, [but] the belief that things can be radically otherwise than they are: that reality is not fixed, but is moving in the direction of human liberation.”

Like many black spirituals, the origin of the text and tune for “There Is a Balm in Gilead” is difficult to track down. Many of these songs
were anonymously handed down through an oral tradition. The song was probably formed in the early part of the nineteenth
century. The first appearance of the refrain was found in Washington Glass’s 1854 hymn “The Sinner’s Cure.” The complete spiritual appeared in Folk Songs of the American Negro in 1907.

(excerpts from Paul Westermeyer, Hymnal Companion to Evangelical Lutheran Worship, Augsburg Fortress, 2010, p. 454-455.)

The Bible’s Hymnal

ELW PsalmsThe Psalms are often overlooked and neglected. They have historically been an essential component in the liturgy of the people of God across the Testaments. I recently decided to reinstate the chanting of the Psalms in our assembly with the beginning of the season of Lent. Lent is a very appropriate time to commit to the Psalms, especially because the content of the assigned Psalms captures the mood of the season so well. There are many good reasons for including the Psalms in our liturgy, and I’ll start with three.

The Psalms are the Bible’s hymnal. Literally, the Psalms are a collection of 150 poems that are intended for singing. These poems were written and compiled across the centuries before Jesus was born. The Psalms are the hymns of Israel. They are the songs of faith that have sustained God’s people for thousands of years. The use of Psalms in worship can be traced all the way back to the dedication of the first Temple in Jerusalem (957 BC, 2 Chronicles 7:3). Even earlier, Moses’ song of praise at the deliverance of Israel in Exodus 15 is the archetype for the Psalms. Typically the Psalms are used in Christian worship as a response after the first reading from the Old Testament. When we sing the Psalms we are connecting our voice to millions of ancestors in the faith. They sang the very same words to God that we do.

There is a healthy spectrum of human emotion expressed to God in the Psalms. The Psalms teach us that God is big and loving enough to handle any human emotion that can be thrown God’s way. The Psalms contain some of the highest praises as well as some of the darkest emotions. The Psalms demonstrate to us that we can laugh, scream, and sob our prayers to God – and God finds them all acceptable. Psalm 136:1 declares with gladness, “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. His love endures forever.” By the next chapter, Psalm 137:1 despairingly states, “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.” Each Psalm can be divided into different categories: Royal Psalms (songs from the king, who idealizes himself as the entire nation of Israel), Songs of Thanksgiving (individual or national thanksgivings for God’s deeds), Laments (individual or corporate cries of lament), and Didactic Psalms (that teach or try to influence people).

Jesus sang the Psalms. The practice of singing in Christian worship is deeply influenced by the singing of Psalms by the Hebrew people. Paul encouraged the faithful to sing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God” (Colossians 3:16). Jesus, as a person shaped by the Jewish faith, would have relied on the Psalms in his own prayer life. We have a record of this in Matthew 27:46, at the time of Jesus’ death. From the cross Jesus cried out the words of Psalm 22:1, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The words of Psalm 22 were the heart response of Jesus in his moment of sacrifice. But Jesus’ quotation of Psalm 22 was also a prophetic fulfillment of God’s redemption made available through Jesus: “future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn—for he has done it” (Psalm 22:30-31).

Is it a hymn, a song, or a chorus?

 

One of the things I like to do is respond to questions about worship or liturgy. I don’t claim to know everything, but I can share my two cents. During a recent conversation this question came up: what do we call the songs we sing in our services? Are they hymns, or songs, or choruses, or what?

 

It’s a tricky question. If you want to get technical, there are dozens of categories within the broader sacred music genre. There are chorales, gospel hymns, scripture songs, contemporary worship songs, spirituals, and doxologies, just to name a few. Even our own Evangelical Lutheran Worship (ELW) hymnal can be perplexing. Pages 92-93 in ELW map out the pattern for worship in our context, but say that a “Gathering Song” can be either a “Hymn” or a “Psalm.” The ELW pattern also calls music during communion a “Communion Song” and music during the sending a “Sending Song.” However, the section of the hymnal that contains the music is titled “Hymns” (beginning at #239). And to add to the confusion, the “Hymns” section in ELW contains several songs that are staples in many contemporary worship services (like #857 “Lord, I Lift Your Name on High” and #821 “Shout to the Lord”)!?!

 

Maybe the best solution is to take it back to basics and what the Bible says about music in worship. We know in two separate occasions the Apostle Paul mentions songs in his letters. In Ephesians 5:18-20 and in Colossians 3:16 Paul says that we are to sing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” So we know for sure that there were at least three categories of songs that the earliest Christians used in their communal worship. Psalms are biblical songs from the Old Testament book by the same name, but likely included other songs (like the Song of Moses in Exodus 15 and Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2). Hymns are songs addressed to God and to Jesus as the Son of God. Possible examples of the first hymns of the Christian era are included in the New Testament (like Philippians 2:6-11 and Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-55). Spiritual Songs were most likely short, extemporaneous songs that arose within individual Christian communities. These songs were probably songs of testimony, fellowship, witness, and were very reflective of the community from which they came. The songs are called “Spiritual” because of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

 

One thing is certain – God’s people are encouraged in Scripture to sing a variety of songs in worship. No matter what we call them, the church has been given the gift of music for the purposes of singing God’s praises.

Got a question? Leave me a comment…