Our Great God | O Church Arise | My Song is Love Unknown

Our Great God | O Church Arise | My Song is Love Unknown

Liturgy Lessons: November 12, 2017
Call to Worship: Psalm 95:1-7
Hymn of Adoration: Our Great God (Ortega)
Call to Confession: Heb. 12:1-2 and 4:15-16
Song of Confession: Jesus, Lamb of God (Agnus Dei)
Assurance of Pardon: 1 Peter 2:9-10; 1 Peter 1:3-9
Song of Assurance: O Church Arise (Getty)
Catechism/Prayers for the Persecuted Church
Reading of the Word: Introduction to Gospel of Luke
Doxology: #731
Preaching of the Word: Rev. Eric Irwin
The Lord’s Supper: My Song is Love Unknown (#182)
Hymn of Triumph: For All the Saints (#358, vs. 1-4)
Reading: Revelations 7:9-12
Hymn (cont.): For All the Saints (vs. 5-6)

“In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.”
– Jesus, John 16:33

“Pain insists on being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts to us in our pain. It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
– C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

This past Sunday was the international day of prayer for the persecuted church. It is not a part of the historic liturgical calendar, but has become a recent annual tradition. The international day of prayer falls on the first Sunday of November each year. It is a day when the body of Christ, around the world, intentionally joins together in prayer for our brothers and sisters who are persecuted for our faith. Due to the Reformation Hymn Sing last week, we will have a separate time of prayer this Sunday night from 6:30-8 pm. Please join if you are able.

Scripture declares, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” (2 Cor. 1:3). This Sunday, as part of our public service, we acknowledge and affirm that we, along with the persecuted church, are the body of Christ. His blood pulses through our veins. We share the same resurrected and restored DNA, and it is His life and death that we proclaim. From the humblest chapel to the grandest cathedral, and from mud huts to megachurches, every community of believers around the globe is spinning out songs to their savior. Many do so illegally and at risk of their very lives. How can we consider not going to church on Sunday because of a football game?

The Cross is the central symbol in our worship, and the pivot point of all history. That old rugged cross, an emblem of suffering, so despised by the world, is something that Christians cherish. The music and lyrics of this week’s songs and hymns are devoted to this truth. They declare our hope in the face of hardship, our shared comfort and victory in Christ, and our longing for His return. “Shout for joy, O heavens; rejoice, O earth; burst into song, O mountains! For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.” (Isaiah 49:13)

Our Great God
Words and Music: Fernando Ortega (2002)

Fernando Ortega is a gifted musician, songwriter, and pianist who grew up in New Mexico. His father worked for the U.S. State department, so during his youth, Fernando spent time in Ecuador and Barbados. Eight generations of his family hail from Chimayo, New Mexico. Fernando’s music is a distinctive stew of classical, folk, world music, and hymnody, mixed with Celtic and Latin American flavors. His artistic recipe is unique, and he has often stated how uncomfortable he is being associated with the fast food culture of the CCM industry (Contemporary Christian Music). In a recent 2015 interview he said:

“I’m surprised to hear that people might lump me into CCM. Most CCM seems escapist to me. CCM just seems to try to be constantly happy or positive. You hear that still on CCM radio. Radio spots will say, “Positive music” or “Life-assuring music.” Rather than music that’s really about life. Overall, I just don’t believe that coming to Christ in any way makes you free from the pain of life. I imagine that a Christian might feel the pain more deeply because of the constant conflict with hope in God’s goodness. We did a song in church recently where I changed the words dramatically. My friend wanted to do it and I said I was only willing if we changed the words. The chorus said, ‘Come down to the river, Come and let yourself in. Make good on a promise to never hurt again.’ I said, ‘That’s just totally untrue. God does not promise us that we’ll never hurt again.’ So I changed it. I’m always doing stuff like that to songs before we do them in church.”

This Sunday’s worship opens with an Ortega song that does not need any lyric changes. It is very much in the pattern of the Psalms, and is full of truth. The second verse is particularly poignant:

Lord, we are weak and frail, and helpless in the storm.
Surround us with your angels, and hold us in your arms.
Our cold and ruthless enemy, his pleasure is our harm.
Rise up, O Lord, and he will flee before our sovereign God.

The musical verses to the hymn transition seamlessly from major to minor, and are full of a rhythmic lilt that makes me feel as if I am cradled in the strong arms of the sovereign God, being rocked back and forth as I look up at the splendor and serenity of His gaze (Zeph. 3:17). Each verse gives way to a syncopated chorus of “Alleluia, Glory be to our great God.” Fernando achieves what all composers try to accomplish: maximum effect with minimum means. With just the piano, he somehow creates the same energy and drive that lesser-skilled songwriters might manufacture with an entire rhythm section. Thank you, Fernando, for your gift to the church.

O Church Arise
Words and Music: Keith Getty and Stuart Townend (2005)

This song is almost an identical twin to In Christ Alone. Written by the same team, in the same key, with the same meter and form, it would easy to just write it off as a cheap sequel to the songwriting duo’s most famous hymn. However, its content is too rich to discard it just because it feels musically copycat. Whereas In Christ Alone, is chiefly a song of individual faith and personal triumph in Christ, O Church Arise is a truly corporate hymn, as is clearly suggested by the title. This focus on the combined strength of Christians is quite refreshing in a church worship culture seeking to create a hypnotic, almost “private,” worship experience for the individual believer. A recent survey by CCLI of the top worship songs produced and used in American churches found that the words “me” and “I” were used exponentially more than “we” and “us.” Many churches turn down the lights and turn up the volume in hopes of creating a sense of anonymity and aloneness with God. But the history of singing in the Christian faith is all about community. We don’t sing “A mighty fortress is my god” or “The Christian’s one foundation.” In our act of singing together, we express and embody the truth of our unity in Christ. This hymn, which is replete with biblical metaphors, is a masculine and militant call for us to rise up and declare the praises of “our Captain.” One recalls the battle of Jericho and the power of the collective shout to bring down the walls of the enemy. I know it’s not possible for us to march around the sanctuary as we sing this one, but we can at least be reminded that we sing in the context of an ongoing battle. I suggest reading Ephesians 6:10-20 and Hebrews 12:1-2 before singing this one.

My Song is Love Unknown
Text: Samuel Crossman (1664)
Tune: ST. JOHN, John Baptiste Calkin (1827-1905)

In Galatians 6:14, Paul passionately states “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” This prayer is the root of an exquisite meditation on our suffering Savior by the aptly named Samuel Crossman in 1664. It is very similar in tone and style to the mystical poetry of George Herbert. In seven devotional and heartfelt verses, Crossman beautifully illuminates the love of Christ. The first verse contains the simple and sublime statement that Christ is “love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be.” In the next five verses Crossman ruminates on the rejected and despised Jesus, asking “why, what hath my Lord done? What makes this rage and spite?” He then declares the truth that Christ “willing to suffering goes, that he his foes from thence might free.” And then, in a tender benediction, Crossman gives us one of the greatest final verses in all of hymnody.

Here might I stay and sing, no story so divine;
Never was love, dear King, never was grief like thine.
This is my Friend, in whose sweet praise
I all my days could gladly spend!