Sanctity of Human Life Sunday: We Come, O Christ, to You

Sanctity of Human Life Sunday: We Come, O Christ, to You

Liturgy Lessons: January 20, 2019
Call to Worship: Psalm 139:1-17
Prayer of Invocation
Hymns of Adoration: We Come, O Christ, to You (#181); Our Great God
Confession: from Daniel 9
Song of Confession: Who Can Sound the Depths of Sorrow?
Assurance of Pardon: Ps. 103:8-13 and 1 Jn. 3:1
Hymn of Assurance: He Will Hold Me Fast
Catechism/Congregational Prayers
Reading of the Word: Psalm 139
Doxology: #731
Sermon: Rev. Eric Irwin
Tithes and Offerings
The Lord’s Supper: How Deep the Father’s Love for Us; Before the Throne of God
Closing Hymn: This is My Father’s World (#111)

Holy Sonnet 10: Death, Be Not Proud
By John Donne (1572-1631)

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

On January 22, 1973 the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion-on-demand in all 50 states. Eleven years later, on Jan. 13th, 1984, President Ronald Reagan designated the anniversary of that date as “National Sanctity of Human Life Day.” Though the issue has become highly politicized (read the 2018 White House declaration here), Christians understand that every life bears the imago dei, and the Bible affirms the truth that God formed us in the womb, that we are His creation (Ps. 139). Therefore, abortion grieves the Father heart of God, and an acceptable response for a Christian would be to lament this American holocaust, confess the carnage, and plead to Christ for mercy and healing. This Sunday we will strive to do just that by making a liturgical nod to this issue during our time of confession.

There is biblical precedent for communal lament (see Ps. 44, Ps. 60, Ps. 74, Ps. 79, Ps. 80, Ps. 85, and Ps. 90) and corporate confession on behalf of the sins of a people or nation (see Daniel 9). In Isaiah chapter 6 the prophet has a vision of the Lord exalted, “seated on a throne, and the train of his robe filled the temple.” Above the Lord were the winged seraphim crying “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord.” Isaiah’s response to this encounter was a mixture of holy fear and repentance. “Woe is me!”, he said, “for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.” Isaiah, like Daniel, does not just confess his personal sin; rather, he acknowledges the sin of his people, and admits the deep need for mercy and forgiveness on their behalf. Given the soul-piercing and sickening statistics of this ongoing slaughter of the innocents, I would say that a time a collective sorrow and intercession is more than appropriate, it is absolutely necessary. “O Lord, we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O God.”

Where our prayers fall short, may the Holy Spirit intercede through us with “groans that words cannot express” (Rom. 8:26). The Nicene Creed says “we believe in the Holy Spirit, The Lord, the Giver of life.” This Holy Spirit, who is deposited in us as a guarantee of our salvation (Eph. 1:14, 2 Cor. 1:22), He is the one who animates our songs. Consider this tender and earnest Mennonite hymn text:

O God, who gives us life and breath,
Who shapes us in the womb,
Who guards our lives from birth to death
Then leads us from the tomb:
Deliver us from fears that kill
The life we have from you.
Help us to know your Spirit still
Is making all things new.

The spirit is making all things new. Therefore, we have hope, a hope that looks beyond the beckoning grave. And that is why our liturgy doesn’t end with confession. It ends at the communion table. Jesus does not stay on the cross. We honor his death as the path to eternal life. Our liturgy is, after all, a weekly re-enactment of the gospel narrative, a retelling of the good news of our salvation. And what is that good news?

One short sleep past, we wake eternally.
Death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die!

Jesus told us that the enemy comes to “steal, kill, and destroy, but I have come that you may have LIFE, and have it abundantly.” For the redeemed of the Lord, death, sorrow, and despair are not the final somber chords. After the dissonance and cacophony, there is a grand crescendo building to an incomprehensibly sweet resolution. This is made possible because “while we were dead in our transgressions, God made us alive in Christ. He forgave us all our sins” (Col. 2:13). Therefore, we do not despair. We are more than conquerors.

The Prince of darkness grim; we tremble not for him.
His rage we can endure, for lo! His doom is sure.
One little word shall fell him!

For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe,
The body they may kill. God’s truth abideth still.
His kingdom is forever!

Thank you, Martin! You know what else Luther said? “The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn.” That’s right, go ahead and ridicule him. He can’t stand being mocked. Stay down, Death. The fatal blow has been delivered, and the ten-count has started. Don’t even try to get back up.

When I tread the verge of Jordan, bid my anxious fears subside
Death of death, and hell’s destruction, land me safe on Canaan’s side.
Songs of praises, songs of praises, I will ever give to Thee!

And how about this refrain in the New Testament, which is too glorious to just be spoken or read off the page. It should be sung!

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

(1 Cor. 15:51-58)

To honor this reality, and to celebrate it in song, I have decided to add a final verse to one of our communion hymns (“How Deep the Father’s Love for Us”) this week. At the close of our supper, we will sing this text that affirms the truths expressed in the book of Revelation.

Behold the King upon the throne, the sons all brought to glory
Cry “Hallelujah” to the Lamb, and sing redemption’s story.
And all creation joins as one; the wretch is made God’s treasure,
His Bride, now clothed in righteousness, shall dwell with Him forever.

Let us rear back and roar out that raucous and rhapsodic refrain for our Redeemer who reigns and rules over all the rancor in this realm. The Rose of Sharon is our Refiner, Refuge, and Resting place. Restorer of the Ransomed, Reward of the Righteous, Rock of Ages. Radiant and Resurrected One!

We Come, O Christ, To You
Text: Margaret Clarkson, 1955
Tune: DARWALL, John Darwall, 1770

Those who lament the decline of theological truth and literary beauty in most of our modern songs will be encouraged by the hymns of Margaret Clarkson. She will probably occupy a place in history as one of the great hymnwriters of the 20th century (sadly, there were not many). She passed away in 2008, and I encourage you to read the winsome eulogy written for her by Christopher Idle in Evangelical Times. It can be found here. Margaret was a robust defender of reformed doctrine, and apparently, even as a child, loved both the Presbyterian hymnal and the Westminster Catechism. Her hymns fold very easily into our worship. They are full of Christocentric language, biblical metaphor, and heartfelt devotion. “We Come, O Christ, to You” is her most well-known hymn.

Margaret Clarkson wrote this hymn at the request of the general director of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship in Canada and the United States. He asked her to write a hymn that might help to unify the scattered student groups of the young organization. The hymn was sung at IVCF’s first missionary convention, held in Toronto in 1946, and it has been a beloved addition to the standard canon ever since.

Jesus is called by almost 50 names or titles in the New Testament. Margaret uses 10 names for Christ in this text. I encourage you to read through the verses below and see if you can you locate all of them. The central theme of this hymn draws its inspiration from Jesus’ famous words in John 14:6:

I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

That verse, and the five verses of Margaret’s poetry that it inspired, is a powerful affirmation for Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. After all, our hope is not in politics, programs, or even our own plans and power, but it is in a person. Our allegiance is not to a moral code nor method, but a man. Not a set of rules, but a Ruler. He is Life. Worship Him.

We come, O Christ, to you,
true Son of God and man,
by whom all things consist,
in whom all life began.
In you alone we live and move
and have our being in your love.

You are the way to God,
your blood our ransom paid;
in you we face our Judge
and Maker unafraid.
Before the throne absolved we stand;
your love has met your law’s demand.

You are the living truth;
all wisdom dwells in you,
the source of every skill,
the one eternal True!
O great I AM! in you we rest,
sure answer to our every quest.

You only are true life
to know you is to live
the more abundant life
that earth can never give.
O risen Lord! we live in you:
in us each day your life renew!

We worship you, Lord Christ,
our Savior and our King;
to you our youth and strength
adoringly we bring:
so fill our hearts that all may view
your life in us and turn to you!