Liturgy Lessons: May 14, 2017 (Mother’s Day)
Call to Worship: Psalm 47(responsively)
Prayer of Invocation
Hymn of Exaltation: Rejoice, the Lord is King (#310, DARWALL)
Prayer and Hymn of Confession (responsively) and Jesus, Lamb of God (Agnus Dei)
Assurance of Pardon: Isaiah 43:1-3a; Romans 5:1 and 8; Colossians 1:13-14
Hymn of Assurance: How Firm a Foundation (#94, FOUNDATION)
Offertory: “Be Thou My Vision” (arr. Alicia Lewis)
Sermon: Casey Bedell, Daniel 3
Meditation: “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need”
Supper Hymns: Lamb of God; There is a Fountain Filled with Blood (#253, FOUNTAIN)
Closing Hymn: Now Thank We All Our God (#98, NUN DANKET)
This Sunday is Mother’s day, so I thought it appropriate to make reference to something uniquely maternal. Breastfeeding (bear with me here; the comparison is not meant to be salacious, but rather, celebratory.) Singing together is like breastfeeding, and no, that’s not a metaphor. In its effect on the brain and the body, the act of singing with other people is literally like breastfeeding. Studies have shown that in both activities, the brain releases the chemical oxytocin, which is a strong anti-depressant largely responsible for bonding, trust, and feelings of mutual, blissful togetherness. It is interesting to note that this chemical measures at lower levels when one is singing alone. Makes sense when you consider it takes two for mother to feed baby. God has designed our bodies in beautiful ways, and in broader manner, he is the life-giving head of the “body” of believers. Christian public worship, which has always included singing, is corporate worship. The English word “corporate” is derived from the Latin word corpus, meaning “body.” The metaphor of the human body is one of the predominant images in the New Testament for how the members of the church of Jesus Christ properly function. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ…Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many” (1 Cor. 12:12, 14). One of the most blissful and nourishing ways we can express this reality is through singing. And, just as a mother feeding her baby, singing has great emotional and physical benefits for all involved. Singing is a great unifier and nourisher. To that end, I offer the following information on two of this Sunday’s hymns.
Rejoice, the Lord is King
Text: Charles Wesley (1744)
Tune: DARWALL, John Darwall (1740)
Do you know what the Sursum Corda is? It’s an ancient prayer used in conjunction with the Lord’s Supper. It encourages the congregation to “Lift up your hearts,” saying “it is right to give God thanks and praise.” This hymn’s refrain is a musical elaboration on the Sursum Corda. After opening with a jubilant call to rejoice in the reign of Jesus, each verse concludes with a rising and rousing refrain based on Philippians 4:4:
“Lift up your hearts, lift up your voice, rejoice, again I say, rejoice!”
Charles Wesley wrote this hymn, and it is typically scriptural. Wesley’s pen, saturated in the Word of God, consistently drips poetic and rich Biblical allusions on the page. He writes eloquently and enthusiastically of the triumphant reign of Christ. He assures us that Jesus conquers guilt and the grave. Thus, we hail him as King, reigning at God’s right hand (Hebrews 1:3, Revelation 1:18). The final verse invites us to see Christ as our living hope, as we anticipate his joyful return (1 Peter 1:21). Wesley originally wrote six stanzas, five of which are included in our hymnal. The most common tune used with this text is DARWALL, named after the composer, John Darwall. It is a regal tune that perfectly supports and augments the text. The melody was first published with the text of Psalm 148 in Aaron Williams’ New Universal Psalmodist in 1770, but somewhere along the way, the Wesley text found Darwall’s tune and the two fell in love. They have been married ever since, and living happily ever after in almost all mainline Christian hymnals.
Link to sheet music: http://hymnary.org/page/fetch/TH1990/327/high
Link to majestic brass/orchestra/organ recording (congregational singing from Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, California): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFYMhF2GA4E
Now Thank We All Our God
Text: Martin Rinkhart (1636), tr. by Catherine Winkworth (1858)
Tune: NUN DANKET, Johann Crüger (1647)
This corporate hymn—most commonly associated with Thanksgiving services—is a call to determined praise in the face of hardship. Greg Scheer (hymnary.org) gives us a glimpse into the context of the author and his life: Martin Rinkart (1586-1649) was the Bishop of Eilenberg, Germany during the Thirty Years’ War. Since Eilenberg was a walled city, it became a place of refuge for fugitives of the war, and also a place of famine and disease due to overcrowding. In 1637, at the height of their misery, Rinkart was the only clergyman left in the city who could perform the 40 or 50 necessary burial services daily, one of which was for his wife. As if that weren’t enough, the city was sacked three times by invaders, one of which imposed a large tribute payment upon the people. During this time, Rinkart managed to find the time to write seven dramas and 66 hymns. The hymn “Nun danket alle Gott” was originally titled “Tisch-Gebetlein,” or a “little prayer before the meal.” This humble prayer of thanksgiving is laid out simply and beautifully in the first verse, but it’s the next two verses that expand the hymn’s focus and have given it its lasting appeal. You can see the Thirty Years’ War pressing on his mind in verse two:
“And keep us in His grace,
And guide us when perplexed,
And free us from all ills
In this world and the next.”
The third and final verse is a paraphrase of the Gloria Patri, originally composed in Greek in the fourth century. Despite the constant clamor of death and suffering around him, Rinkart does not give in to despair. His unshakeable faith in the goodness of God allowed him to pen these words, which remind us that our God is a faithful Father who cares for His children.
The tune, NUN DANKET, named for the original title of Rinkart’s text, was written by Johann Crüger and published in his Praxis Pietatis Melica (1647). Stately and majestic, this tune has been source material for some great composers. It is the primary musical theme for Felix Mendelssohn’s symphonic Lobgesang (“song of praise”), which remains a popular choral masterwork from the 19th century. I have included a link to the 9th movement from that work. I cannot imagine a setting of this hymn with greater loveliness or warmth. Also below is a link to John Rutter’s splendid and majestic arrangement of this hymn for organ and orchestra/brass. Both recordings highlight different aspects of this timeless hymn which merits being used more than just once a year at Thanksgiving. And, beyond its historical importance or intrinsic excellence, there is one final reason this hymn closes out our liturgy for this Sunday. In the opening verse of this hymn, we have another “nod” to Mother’s day.
“Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices.
Who wondrous things has done, in whom this world rejoices.
Who from our mother’s arms has blessed us on our way,
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.”
Sheet music: http://hymnary.org/page/fetch/TH1990/102/high
Mendelssohn’s setting (from “Lobgesang”): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kYfz9WjkU18
Rutter’s arrangement: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Z2_JLqOjNY