The Power of the Cross | And Can It Be?

The Power of the Cross | And Can It Be?

Liturgy Lessons: November 19, 2017
Call to Worship: I Chronicles 16: 8-13, 28-34
Prayer of Invocation
Hymn of Praise: Holy, Holy, Holy (#100)
Confession of Sin: Psalm 25:4-11
Assurance of Pardon: Lamentations 3: 19-24
Songs of Response: The Steadfast Love of The Lord; O The Deep, Deep Love of Jesus (#535)
Catechism/Congregational Prayers
Reading of the Word: Luke 1:5-25
Doxology: #731
Sermon: Eric
The Lord’s Supper: The Power of the Cross (Getty/Townend); And Can It Be? (#455, first and last verses)
Closing Hymn: O God Beyond All Praising (#660)

“Late have I loved thee, O beauty ever ancient, ever new.”
– St. Augustine, Confessions, Book 10, Chapter 27

“Beauty of musical color, elegance of harmony, soundness of construction and exquisiteness of originality once worked as the lure that would draw the faltering worshiper nearer. Music, as well as architecture and visual art, represented heaven to the earthbound, something dazzling and unapproachable, an advertisement for a paradise still held at arm’s length.”
– Bernard Holland, New York Times article (2007)

“We are part of the Church who is the Bride of Christ. A beautiful church building, gracefully proportioned, drawing the eye up to the altar; windows in plain or stained glass, letting sun-beams in; beautiful vestments worn by the priests and deacons, colorful choir robes, reminding us that we are at no ordinary gathering, but at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb; music, or sacred silence; candles; icons; gold and red and blue, rich colors for our King; beauty in proportion and graceful design even if there is little ornament. All this says ‘here is the place where we have come to meet the Bridegroom.’ Our incarnate, crucified, and risen Lord Jesus Christ is the Bridegroom; the Church is his Bride. And every Eucharist is a wedding celebration, a marriage supper! Beauty reminds us of who we are in Christ. We are the Bride, made beautiful for our Bridegroom.”
– Holly Ordway

The two hymns highlighted in this week’s lesson are our communion hymns. They are the songs with which we will beautify the marriage supper to which we are called by Christ himself, who is the very embodiment and perfection of beauty. Music is a form of beauty and its function is to remind us of our transcendent purpose, that we were created for more than this material world. This is why beauty matters, in an eternal sense. Because we were created by God and for God, and because Christ is beauty incarnate, we have an innate desire for beauty within our hearts. The Holy Spirit uses that desire to lead us back to God himself. In our worship, may the truth of the Gospel not be divorced from the beautiful. May the two ancient transcendentals be ever new to us. As they are one in Christ, may they both be boldly on display in the church, and especially at each week’s wedding feast. The Bride of Christ should be extravagantly adorned, never in rags. Bring back her gown and the glass slippers. The Prince invites us to the ball.

The Power of the Cross
Text: Stuart Townend (2006)
Music: Keith Getty (2006)

Irish musician and pianist Keith Getty is one of the most respected modern hymn writers in the world. His partnership with lyricist and fellow musician Stuart Townend has been especially prolific. In a celebrity-driven marketplace, where commodity is more prized than creativity, Keith has persisted in writing songs for the purpose of praise and not profit. He has admirably dealt with the inherent age-old tension between music and business by maintaining a fierce focus on the ultimate goal of his songwriting. “The purpose of the song is to help people understand the gospel,” he said in a recent interview. “I’ve never tried to write a worship song as a commodity. I try to write a great song for a congregation and not what the industry wants. I’ve tried to write, asking, ‘How can I make everyone in this room stand taller, breathe deeper, and be excited to sing, and clench their fists, and raise their hands, and sing louder?’ And that’s what we’re trying to achieve in our songs.”

Well, with the text to The Power of the Cross, I would say that Stuart Townend (who spent 17 months crafting the lyrics to Getty’s music) has achieved Keith’s stated goals. This hymn helps us understand the gospel by shining a spotlight on the central symbol of Christian life, the cross. In form and content, it is very much a contemporary rendition of O Sacred Head Now Wounded. Just consider the text to the chorus:

“This, the pow’r of the cross: Christ became sin for us;
Took the blame, bore the wrath—We stand forgiven at the cross.”

But it’s not just greater theological understanding that the hymn brings. It stirs the soul with music that is artfully crafted. Keith Getty is an Irish Presbyterian who grew up with church music. His childhood was steeped in hymnody and his musical training was classical. As a result, his music has compositional craft and contextual intelligence. He is always aware of form and content, and the relationship between those two. The stirring melody for this hymn progresses beautifully in stepwise motion, arcing up and over little hills before finally arriving at the climactic high place where we declare “We stand forgiven at the cross.” It is as if we are walking with Christ as he carries his cross up to Golgotha, where we kneel in worship before him, and together are lead to declare:

“Oh, to see my name written in the wounds, for through Your suffering I am free.
Death is crushed to death; life is mine to live, won through Your selfless love.
This, the pow’r of the cross: Son of God—slain for us.
What a love! What a cost! We stand forgiven at the cross.”

And Can It Be?
Tune: Thomas Campbell (The Bouquet, 1825)
Text: Charles Wesley (1738)

This hymn was written by Charles Wesley to celebrate his conversion. It was originally published in his brother John’s Psalms and Hymns with six stanzas, five of which appear in our Trinity hymnal. The hymn is the beautiful testimonial of a redeemed soul’s astounding wonder and gratitude for Christ’s sacrificial love. The fourth verse is a poetic personalization of the story of Paul and Silas from Acts 12, where God used singing as a channel of the Spirit’s power to bring victory and freedom. This triumphant, surging shout of God’s love is mirrored in the melody. It seems like a tune befitting some sort of Christian “Rocky Balboa.” It won’t stay down for long, and once it settles low, it ascends again. After several rising arpeggios to end each verse, the refrain soars even higher, reserving the highest notes for “Thou, my God.” The music comes from a collection by Thomas Campbell entitled The Bouquet, where every tune was given a horticultural title. This one is SAGINA, which is the genus of a family of flowers (baby’s breath and carnation). The title explains the florid nature of the music. Perhaps as you sing this melody, you can picture the blossoming of the soul as it is lifted from being “fast-bound in sin and nature’s night” into the “quick’ning ray” of God’s love. Because of the length and range, this tune is not the easiest to sing. I encourage you to spend some time with it before Sunday, particularly the first and last verses. These are the two verses that we will be singing to culminate our time of communion. Wesley’s hymns are a true gift to the church, and this is one of his best. Below is a recording from a church in Pennsylvania that captures the grandeur and beauty of this majestic hymn. We don’t yet have the orchestra or choral resources that they may have, but may it be an inspiration to us. As we sing it, may we be enraptured with the love of Christ, and let us join with the wonderstruck soul that declares: “Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God, should die for me?”