Liturgy Lesson: May 10, 2020
Call to Worship: Psalm 65:1-8
Prayer of Invocation
Hymn of Adoration: Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee
Call to Confession: Jer. 17:5-6, 9-10
Hymn of Confession: O Great God
Assurance of Pardon: Jeremiah 31:10-14 and Isaiah 51:11
Hymns of Assurance: Arise, My Soul, Arise; There is a Redeemer
Reading of the Word: Luke 15:3-32
Sermon: Rev. Eric Irwin
Prayer for Spiritual Communion
The Lord’s Prayer
Hymn of Faith: O Father You Are Sovereign
As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you;
You shall be comforted in Jerusalem
“The love of a mother is the veil of a softer light between the heart and the heavenly Father.”
– Samuel Taylor Coleridge
“If evolution really works, how come mothers only have two hands?”
– Milton Berle
In his book You are What you Love, philosopher James K.A. Smith speaks profoundly about the formative nature of habits and the power that everyday activities have in shaping our hearts. The fifth chapter is entitled “Guard your Heart – The Liturgies of Home.” It begins this way:
“’We love because he first loved us’ (1 John 4:19). This truth is the nourishing conviction of what I’ve been describing: the model of human beings as lovers and the vision for discipleship that grow out of it. Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar captures this in an image that is both beautiful and biblical, a metaphor that is natural and supernatural at the same time. ‘After a mother has smiled at her child for many days and weeks,’ he notes, ‘she finally receives her child’s smile in response. She has awakened love in the heart of her child, and as the child awakens to love, it also awakens to knowledge.’ It’s like we love in order to know. But we are loved into loving.”
Smith then connects this philosophical notion to the heart of the gospel.
“The smile of the cherishing mother that evokes the smile of the infant is a microcosm of a cosmic truth: that God’s gracious initiative in the incarnation—’he first loved us—is the provoking smile of a Creator who meets us in the flesh, granting even the grace that allows us to love him in return.”
It’s a beautiful truth that reminds us of the immensity of a mother’s influence in the development and nurture of her children’s hearts. Smith reminds us that we do indeed love because God loved us first, but “we learn how to love at home.” In the very next paragraph he articulates an important reality that we all need to hear. This should be required reading for every Christian who can no longer attend church during quarantine.
“Obviously an hour and a half on Sunday morning is not sufficient to rehabituate hearts that are daily immersed in rival liturgies. Yes, gathered, congregational worship is the heart of discipleship, but this doesn’t mean that communal worship is the entirety of discipleship. While communal worship calibrates the heart in necessary, fundamental ways, we need to take the opportunity to cultivate kingdom-oriented liturgies throughout the week. The capital-L Liturgy of Sunday morning should generate lowercase-l liturgies that govern our existence throughout the rest of the week.”
It is at this point where I quietly leave the table to go eat my humble pie in the corner. I confess that most of the heavy lowercase-l liturgical lifting in the home has been done by my wife. While I am pre-occupied with the glamorous and very public capital-L liturgy for Sunday church, my wife is marshalling the mundane, transforming our home into a tabernacle. Without sermon or ceremony, pomp or pageantry, she works all day, every day, as a homeschool mother of four to establish formative rhythms that imprint the music of the gospel on our children’s hearts. To her it may only feel like crafting curriculum, cooking meals, and cleaning clothes, just the endless drudgery of motherhood. But in actuality she is more of a mason than a mom. She is carving and cutting stone hearts, preparing them for their place in the kingdom. In fact, she is not just making a home, she is building a cathedral. And when our children (who are each in themselves a temple) are fully grown they will understand where they fit in God’s kingdom, having gotten a glimpse of the divine architecture through the skillful planning of their mother. They will have a sense of belonging knowing that they are “no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (Eph. 2:19-21).
If you can’t already tell, this is my attempt to honor my wife on Mother’s Day. The truth is that no amount of clever speech, poetry, or metaphor can do her justice. She is remarkable beyond words, and I am the luckiest man alive. Our children will rise up and call her blessed. I laud her and have no hesitation in hijacking this Liturgy Lesson to sing her praises. Laura, I hope you read this! For all the lowercase-l work you do from Monday to Saturday, you are capital-L Loved! Our kids get a hands-on, heart-forming liturgy lesson from you every day of the week. I don’t make much money, but I am so very rich. “An excellent wife, who can find? She is far more precious than jewels” (Proverbs 31:10).
Ok…enough gushing. On to the hymns.
Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee
Text: Henry Van Dyke, 1907
Music: “Ode to Joy”, Beethoven, 1824
There are a handful of hymns that always come to mind when spring reaches its peak. After putting us through the Lenten winter (which can be quite grim and gray in the northwest), mother nature turns the page on the liturgical calendar and brings us into Eastertide with the beauty of spring. As the earth tilts toward the Sun, she celebrates the resurrection season by adorning the land with her finest drapery. As the days lengthen and the flowers awaken, color returns to the canvas and all around are signs of hope and new life.
Hymnwriters and poets throughout history have used this season as a springboard for praise. Consider some of these classic couplets.
Fair are the meadows, fair are the woodlands, robed in the blooming garb of spring.
Jesus shines brighter, Jesus shines purer than all the angels heaven can boast.
This is my Father’s world, the birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white, declare their Maker’s praise.
This is my Father’s world, He shines in all that’s fair.
In the rustling grass, I hear him pass,
He speaks to me everywhere.
Perhaps the most exuberant hymn on this theme is “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” written by Henry Van Dyke (1852-1933) when he was a guest preacher visiting the Berkshire mountains in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Henry Van Dyke was a Presbyterian minister. Most of his career was spent as a professor of English literature at Princeton University. He also served in civil posts, including his appointment to the Netherlands and Luxembourg by Woodrow Wilson, a personal friend. Van Dyke even served as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy Chaplain Corps during World War I. He wrote 25 books and chaired the committee that, in 1905, prepared the Book of Common Worship for the Presbyterian Church.
His son, Tertius Van Dyke, provided this perspective on the story behind his father’s hymn:
“My father’s hymn, ‘Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee,’ written to the music of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, is a vital and happy expression of the cheerful note that is the heart of the Christian religion. It begins, as Christianity itself began, in a whole-souled and hearty yes to life as Jesus lived it in God. It is the natural paean that leaps to the lips of a man who receives his life at God’s hands and purposes to live that life in Christ’s law of liberty.
It would be a pity to attempt to analyze this hymn, and I do not intend to commit that particular error…I may, however, permit myself to make one observation on this hymn with a view to aiding us in the appreciation of its message. It is this—that the hymn celebrates a joy to be found in nature by the man who finds his first joy in living his own life in Jesus Christ. Anyone who is familiar with my father’s poetry and preaching will at once recognize that the harmony of this double note is his most characteristic accent. How often he declares that Christianity is an out-of-doors religion! How steadily he stresses the joyfulness of a life that rests upon Christ! If a man is a Christian in this simple sense of personal faith and activity, let him step out into the open air and rejoice:
‘For the long breath, the deep breath, the breath of a heart without care—
I will give thanks and adore thee, God of the open air!”
Oh, Henry! How sweet are your words. How they resonate. I agree wholeheartedly that Christianity is an “out-of-doors” religion and I, too, give thanks and adoration to the God of the open air! The enthusiasm of your writing is infectious. I’m sure we would have been good friends. I can almost see us walking in an open field among the Berkshire mountains, singing and spinning with arms open wide, doing our best impersonation of Julie Andrews. Not only are the hills alive with the sound of music, but our hearts are fully alive with the joy of the Lord.
Joyful, joyful, we adore thee, God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flowers before thee, opening to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness, drive the dark of doubt away.
Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day.
This hymn has the heart of a poet, but is obviously written with the hand of a preacher. It is saturated with scriptural imagery. Joy is a constant theme in the Psalms: “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” (Ps. 32:11); “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth” (Ps. 98:4); “My lips will shout for joy when I sing praises to you” (Ps. 71:23). Van Dyke compares the act of worship to flowers opening toward the sun; God is compared to the sun in Malachi 4:2, “But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.” The Bible is rich with expressions of light overcoming darkness. Just see 2 Samuel 22:29, “For you are my lamp, O Lord, and my God lightens my darkness.”
In the second stanza, Van Dyke echoes Psalm 148, which calls on the sun and moon, the stars, the creatures of the sea, the elements of weather, mountains, trees, birds and animals, kings and princes, men and women, young and old, to worship the Lord. Every part of creation is now charged with the Joy of the Creator.
All Thy works with joy surround Thee, Earth and heaven reflect Thy rays
Stars and angels sing around Thee, center of unbroken praise.
Field and forest, vale and mountain, flowery meadow, flashing sea,
Chanting bird and flowing fountain call us to rejoice in Thee.
The third stanza enumerates some character attributes of God, as one who gives (Matthew 7:11) and forgives (Psalm 103:12). God the Father is a well-spring of life (John 4:14), and Christ is described as our brother (Matthew 12:46-50). The phrase “All who live in love are Thine” might, at first glance, appear to be a form of universalism, except that this idea is clearly expressed in 1 John 4:7-8: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
Thou art giving and forgiving, ever-blessing, ever-blest,
Well-spring of the joy of living, ocean depth of happy rest!
Thou our Father, Christ our Brother, all who live in love are Thine;
Teach us how to love each other, lift us to the joy divine!
In the fourth stanza, the allusion to “morning stars” is from Job 38:7. Finally, the hymn declares its singers to be victors (1 Cor. 15:57) who are marching to triumph (2 Cor. 2:14). It is this final verse which most closely aligns with the original spirit of the music for this hymn. The tune is drawn from Beethoven’s famous “Ode to Joy” from his Ninth Symphony, probably one of the most universally recognizable melodies in the entire Western world. Beethoven made the bold (and revolutionary) decision to add a chorus into the final movement of his symphony, and for his text he chose “An die Freude” by German poet Friedrich Schiller. This is a poem that acknowledges joy to be the “beautiful spark of divinity” and “daughter of Elysium.” Schiller’s hyper-romantic poem seeks to draw all humanity together under the banner of heaven.
Van Dyke himself dictated that his hymn text was to be set to “Ode to Joy.” I’m sure that he was familiar with the source material, because his final verse sounds like a distilled version of Schiller. Only the second line sounds distinctly Christian.
Mortals, join the happy chorus which the morning stars began.
Father love is reigning o’er us, brother love binds man to man.
Ever singing, march we onward, victors in the midst of strife,
Joyful music leads us onward in the triumph song of life.
It is this fourth verse that is left out of many hymnals for a variety of reasons. Perhaps it feels too theologically loose and Pollyannish, more fit for a pep rally than a worship service. If this were mere spoken text, a creed that we were reciting in worship, then I would be inclined to find better material. However, the final two lines make it clear that this is not just about the words, but about the music itself, and the act of singing. Here we are reminded that hymns are more than just portable theology. They are pieces of music. And there is so much more to music than mere words. Consider Psalm 19, which reminds us that the music of creation can pour forth speech, declaring day to day the glory of the Lord in a wordless symphony. Consider the birds in the spring who constantly tweet. Each morning when we awake, no matter what we are faced with, may we continue to sing (even if it’s just humming or scatting), and let that singing be an act of faith and trust. God gave us breath, and we offer it back up to him. Singing is sometimes just declaring “I’m alive today, and I have hope, and God will get me through.” Music like Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” encourages our spirits to not be bowed down with care, but to march onward by making melody, declaring the triumph song of life. We raise our voices and lift our faces toward the resurrected Son, in whom we find victory. Let us keep singing our way through this pandemic. Let us not be silent.
Arise, My Soul, Arise
Text: Charles Wesley, 1742
Tune: Ross Hauck, 2020
Sometimes hymns are popular because they have a great tune, even if the text is mediocre. And occasionally there is a brilliant hymn text that is not sung very often because the music with which it is paired is sub-par. This has been the unfortunate case with “Arise, My Soul, Arise.” It is a transcendent text by Charles Wesley (perhaps one of his greatest) that deserves far better musical treatment than it has been given in many hymnals. Some contemporary musicians have tried their hand at re-tuning this text, but I found none that I liked (apologies to Kevin Twit at Indelible Grace). So, I have written one, and we will try it out on Sunday. Below this write-up is a rough-cut recording of the new version.
This hymn was published in 1742 and was first entitled “Behold the Man.” The words focus on the assurance we find in Christ’s atoning and accomplished sacrifice for us, his forgiveness of our sins, and his continual intercession with the Father on our behalf. Wesley alludes to numerous Scripture passages, many from the book of Hebrews, including 10:19-23:
“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, the new and living way that he opened to us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience…”
Wesley also refers to Romans 8:34, “Christ Jesus…is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” The title of this hymn and its entire ethos feels like the refrain in Psalm 42, “why are you cast down, o my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” We are singing encouragement to our own hearts by consistently calling to mind the hope we have in Christ. We are told to shake off our guilty fears because Jesus, the bleeding sacrifice, stands for us before the throne of God. His blood has atoned for all of our sins, and He intercedes for us. The Father hears Him pray for us and we are reconciled, not because of anything we could have done, but because of the blood of Christ, shed for each of us. And, as a result of His intercession, we are His children and we can draw near to Him without any fear.
This hymn is a powerhouse and could be a stand-alone sermon. It is a full meal in and of itself. It feels like the pastrami sandwiches I used to get at the corner deli in New York City, stacked so high with meat that I could barely fit one in my mouth. Well, The Wesley Brothers Deli has literally jampacked this one with one with the meat of God’s Word. As you bite down on each line of this hymn, you are being fed with juice and fat of scripture. Here is the text with accompanying scripture references. Feast on this one!
Arise, my soul, arise; shake off thy guilty fears (Is. 60:1, Ps. 34:4)
The bleeding sacrifice in my behalf appears (1 Cor. 5:7, Heb. 9:24)
Before the throne my surety stands, (Rev. 5:6; Heb. 7:22)
My name is written on His hands. (Is. 49:6)
He ever lives above, for me to intercede (Heb. 7:25)
His all redeeming love, His precious blood, to plead (2 Pet. 3:9; John 3:16; 1 Pet. 1:18)
His blood atoned for every race, (Rom. 5:11; 1 Tim. 2:6)
And sprinkles now the throne of grace. (Heb. 12:24; Heb. 4:16)
Five bleeding wounds He bears; received on Calvary; (Jn. 20:27; Lk. 24:40)
They pour effectual prayers; they strongly plead for me: (1 Pet. 1:2; Lam. 3:38)
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry, (Lk. 23:34)
“Nor let that ransomed sinner die!” (Job 33:24)
My God is reconciled; His pardoning voice I hear; (Rom. 5:10; Is. 1:18)
He owns me for His child; I can no longer fear (Gal. 3:26; 1 Jn. 4:18)
With confidence I now draw nigh, (Eph. 3:11; Heb. 7:19)
And “Father, Abba, Father,” cry. (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6)