Liturgy Lesson: May 9, 2021 (5th Sunday Eastertide/Mother’s Day)
Call to Worship: 1 Samuel 2:1-2, 6-10 (Song of Hannah)
Prayer of Invocation
Hymn of Praise: Rejoice the Lord is King
Confession: Romans 3:10-12 and prayer
Assurance of Pardon: Isaiah 42:16; Col. 1:12-14
Hymn(s) of Assurance: Before the Throne of God Above; My Hope is Built on Nothing Less
Reading of the Word: Luke 24:36-49 (Jesus Appears to His Disciples)
Sermon: Andrew Perkins
Tithes and Offerings
Supper: Behold our God; Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending
Here’s a hearty and well-deserved “Happy Mother’s Day” to my beautiful wife and my own amazing mom. Without the faithfulness and love of these two women, I would be adrift and alone. When I was a child, my mom functioned as the rudder for our family vessel. Most of her work was invisible, beneath the surface, but she kept us on track, and steadied the ship in the storm. In countless ways every day, my wife, Laura, does the same for our four children. She, in essence, directs the liturgy of our home, providing structure at every turn with a faithful, devoted presence. Through the tireless work of her hands and the undying affection of her heart, she endears us more and more. We cannot help but “rise up and call her blessed” (Pr. 31:28).
One of the loveliest liturgies my wife enacts in our home is reading stories out loud around the table. This is a practice that Laura began when our twin boys (now teenagers) were little, and she has continued it regularly with our girls (ages 8 and 10). She handpicks great books that resonate with all that is True, Good, and Beautiful, and then drips that honey on our children’s hearts. Best of all, she loves to do it!
Healthy structure and life-giving stories. These are two pillars of Laura’s legacy in our home. And, I must say that the former is the only reason the Haucks ever get anything done. If Dad was in charge, life would be loads of fun, but we would never accomplish anything!
I think this is why I love both music and liturgy. They provide what I naturally lack. They both have internal structure, and these structures tell stories. Christians can think of our liturgy as a re-enactment or re-presentation of the Biblical story. That story has three main chapters: Creation, Fall, Re-creation. We were made in God’s image, then broken, and are being re-made. Note that the third chapter will be better than the first, not simply a recapitulation. Like the difference between Technicolor and HD.
This threefold sketch is the narrative arc of all scripture, indeed all of human history. Our liturgy is simply a microcosm. When we gather on Sundays, we re-enact the three chapters of this story in miniature, a sort of 90-minute ‘footnotes’ version. This is why our liturgy doesn’t end with confession (Chapter 2). It ends at the communion table (Chapter 3). Yes, our repentance is absolutely necessary and ongoing, but we rise up and receive assurance of pardon. More than that, we receive the Lord himself, Christ in us, the hope of glory. Calvary is but a stopover on the way to Canaan. The vinegar and gall Christ tasted on our behalf is now sweet wine and springs of living water.
If you want an alliterative version of this, you can define it as the 4 G’s. The Glory of God, the Gravity of Sin, the Grandeur of Grace, and the Gratitude of the Redeemed. Many great hymns of the faith outline this narrative, retelling the story in fresh and memorable ways. Their intent is to make our worship more than mere commentary. The great hymnwriters (a.k.a. ‘storytellers’) know how to invite us into the story, helping us inhabit or embody the faith we profess. The lyrics quicken our hearts and enchant our imagination. The music emotionally shepherds us. In this wholesome way, the hymns nurture our faith. They ‘mother’ us even as we sing of the Father.
What love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God. What a joy to be invited to His house and to gather around His table. “Kids, I welcome you to worship! Today we will experience a true story. This story has the best hero of all, and the ending is better than any ‘happily ever after’ you can think of. Let’s get started.”
My Hope is Built on Nothing Less (a.k.a. “The Solid Rock”)
Text: Edward Mote, 1834
Tune: SOLID ROCK, William Bradbury, 1863
The following account of this hymn’s creation is offered at hymnary.org:
“Edward Mote was walking to work one day in 1834, the thought popped into his head to write a hymn on the ‘Gracious Experience of a Christian.’ As he walked up the road, he had the chorus, ‘On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; All other ground is sinking sand.’ By the end of the day, he had the first four verses written out and safely tucked away in his pocket. Later that week, he visited his friend whose wife was very ill, and as they couldn’t find a hymnal to sing from, he dug up his newly written verses and sang those with the couple. The wife enjoyed them so much she asked for a copy, and Mote went home to finish the last two verses and sent it off to a publisher, saying, ‘As these verses so met the dying woman’s case, my attention to them was the more arrested, and I had a thousand printed for distribution’ (Lutheran Hymnal Handbook).”
A “mote” is a tiny piece of substance, a speck, a particle. Based on the impact of this hymn to generations of believers, the author’s surname is a misnomer. Mr. Mote’s hymn is no small fleck of dust. It has been a sea stack, a Gibraltar, for many souls who have sung it in troubled times. That is because it faithfully points the singer to Christ, the anchor that holds “in many high and stormy gail” and whose covenant of love “supports us in the overwhelming flood.” He is the Solid Rock. Considering all this, I suggest a slight spelling change to the author’s last name. It should read “Mr. Edward Moat.” This “moat” is deep and wide, surrounding the church with the water of life and acting as a defense against the attacking charge of unbelief, doubt, and fear.
The infectious tune for this hymn is one of the most delightfully simple ear worms in all hymnody. It was written by William Bradbury, a 19th-century musician with an impressive catalogue of compositions, and an even more impressive beard. Mostly known for his songbook collections for choirs and schools, Bradbury ran a piano company in New York City. He wrote the music for this hymn text in 1863. There are a few of his other hymn tunes that you may recognize: “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” “Just as I Am,” “Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us.” His personal favorite was a little ditty for the kiddos. It is one that every mom has at some point sung with her children. “Jesus Loves Me.”
Behold Our God
Music and Lyrics by Jonathan Baird, Meghan Baird, Ryan Baird, and Stephen Altrogge, 2011
One of the criticisms I’ve heard about contemporary Christian music is “it’s just the same 3 chords over and over again.”= Well, if we applied that criterion to all our hymns, we would have to be dismissive of many others, including “Amazing Grace,” “How Firm a Foundation,” and even the aforementioned and beloved “Jesus Loves Me.” Oh, and just for good measure (in case the critic is an elitist), you know what other all-time famous tune is basically three chords? Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” which is just a repeated pattern of D, G, and A. It turns out that simplicity and repetition are two things that can be important tools for musicians (and mothers!). In the right hands, these can be used to mold and shape something beautiful.
“Behold Our God” is a new hymn by the team at Sovereign Grace Music, a ministry dedicated to “encouraging biblically informed, heartfelt, Spirit-empowered singing in the church.” It is an excellent example of simplicity in songwriting done well. This beautifully humble thing doesn’t even aspire the three chords! The verse is essentially made up of only two chords, and the melody of the refrain is a stepwise pattern of repeated notes on the same pitch. The verses alternate between C-major and E-minor, with one chord per measure. This creates an ambience of spaciousness, as if we were see-sawing gently in some broad place between heaven and earth. This fits the expansiveness of the questions asked in the lyrics, which are all directly paraphrased from Isaiah 40:
“Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him…” (Is. 40:10, ESV)
“Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span… Who has measured the Spirit of the LORD, or what man shows him his counsel? Who did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding?” (vv. 12-14)
“To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him?” (v. 18)
Here’s the songwriter’s distillation of those verses:
Who has held the oceans in His hands?
Who has numbered every grain of sand?
Kings and nations tremble at His voice,
All creation rises to rejoice.
Behold our God seated on His throne,
Come let us adore Him.
Behold our King nothing can compare,
Come let us adore Him!
Who has given counsel to the Lord?
Who can question any of His Words?
Who can teach the One who knows all things?
Who can fathom all His wondrous deeds?
Not only do the lyrics paraphrase the old Testament, but they point forward to Christ. In this manner, the songwriters are taking their cue from Isaac “ten thousand” Watts, the 18th-century hymnwriter who paraphrased the Psalms through a Christocentric lens. The third verse of “Behold our God” presents Jesus, the Messiah, as the LORD God of whom the prophet Isaiah speaks.
Who has felt the nails upon His hands
Bearing all the guilt of sinful man?
God eternal humbled to the grave
Jesus, Savior risen now to reign!
Linking Isaiah 40 to its fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ allows us to sing a more complete story, one that hints at the final glorious “happily ever after” chapter where we all will gather before the Risen Lamb and sing together, “Behold our God, seated on the throne, come let us adore him!”