Music: Good for the Body

The unity of the Body of Christ is not a bland, undifferentiated uniformity, but a rich and manifold concord. Music is uniquely equipped to provide an aural image of this kind of community, in which union is not unanimity, nor multiplicity a cacophony. With every resonant sonority, music testifies to the possibility of this sort of life.

Music provides a compelling sounding image of life together; but it is a shared life in which the distinctive voice of the individual is not negated by communion with the other. In music, we encounter identity which preserves particularity. As we sing together, different sounds—your voice, and mine—occupy the same time and the same space, without obstructing or negating one another.

—Stephen R. Guthrie, “Singing, in the Body and in the Spirit,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 46/4 (December 2003), 645, 643

The Chief Festival of the Church: Every Sunday!

For Christians Sunday is the chief festival occasion of the faith. About this there is much misunderstanding. Many active Christians would say that Christmas is their chief festival. Closer to the mark, but still missing it, are those who would say that Easter Day is the principal feast of the church. What is amiss about such assessments? Simply this: No observance that occurs only once a year can connote the continuing work of God in daily life. Therefore the chief festival occurs weekly, and from it all else is derived, including those annual festivities that may be more visible and certainly are the more popular cultural occasions.

It has become a maxim of late that “every Sunday is a little Easter.” But it would be more accurate to say that “every Easter is a great Sunday.”

—Laurence H. Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church, 44, 54

Risen!

Alleluia! Alleluia!
Hearts to heav’n and voices raise:
Sing to God a hymn of gladness,
Sing to God a hymn of praise:
He, Who on the cross a Savior,
For the world’s salvation bled,
Jesus Christ, the King of glory,
Now is risen from the dead.

Now the iron bars are broken,
Christ from death to life is born,
Glorious life, and life immortal,
On this resurrection morn:
Christ has triumphed, and we conquer
By His mighty enterprise,
We with Him to life eternal
By His resurrection rise.

—Christopher Wordsworth (1807-1885) (often sung to the tune Hymn of Joy by Beethoven)

Cosmic Explosion

The resurrection was a kind of cosmic explosion that reverberated in all directions. It gave the followers of Jesus a new understanding of the present, but also of the past and of the future. Through the resurrection (and that alone) the cross, that instrument of capital punishment by the hated Romans, ceased to be an enigmatic embarrassment and became the central symbol of the faith.

—Laurence Hill Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church, 37

Holy Saturday (2)

Today a grave holds Him
who holds creation in the palm of His hand.
A stone covers Him
who covers with glory the heavens.
Life is asleep and hell trembles,
and Adam is freed from his chains.
Glory to Your saving work,
by which You have done all things!
You have given us eternal rest,
Your holy resurrection from the dead.

—Orthodox Church, The Matins of Holy Saturday (excerpt)

Holy Saturday

In a tomb they laid you,
O Christ the Life.
The angelic hosts were overcome with awe,
And glorified Your condescension.

O Life, how can You die?
How can you dwell in a tomb?
Yet by Your death You have destroyed the reign of death,
And raised all the dead from hell.

Earth’s bounds You have measured,
O Jesus, King of all,
Yet today You dwell in a narrow tomb,
Raising the dead from their graves.

Lo, the sovereign Ruler
Of creation is dead.
Almighty God is laid in a new tomb,
To empty the graves of all their dead.

In a tomb they laid you,
O Christ the Life.
By Your death You have cast down the might of death
And become the font of life for all the world.

You have been numbered
Among transgressors, O Christ.
You have justified us all, O Lamb of God,
By freeing us from the devil’s works.

He who holds the earth
In the hollow of His hand
Has been put to death and held fast by the earth,
To save the dead from hell’s grasping hand.

O my Life, my Savior,
Dwelling with the dead in death,
You have destroyed the iron bars of hell,
And have risen from corruption.

—Orthodox Church, The Matins of Holy Saturday (excerpt)

SEE ALSO: Bruce Benedict, “Poem for Easter”

“It is finished!”

The Savior meant that the satisfaction which He rendered to the justice of God was finished. The debt was now, to the last farthing, all discharged. The atonement and propitiation were made once and for all and forever—by the one offering made in Jesus’ body on the Tree. There was the cup, Hell was in it, the Savior drank it—not a sip and then a pause—not a draught and then a ceasing. He drained it till there is not a dreg left for any of His people. The great ten-thronged whip of the Law was worn out upon His back. There is no lash left with which to smite one for whom Jesus died. The great cannonade of God’s justice has exhausted all its ammunition—there is nothing left to be hurled against a child of God.

Sheathed is your sword, O Justice! Silenced is your thunder, O Law! There remains nothing now of all the griefs and pains and agonies which chosen sinners ought to have suffered for their sins, for Christ has endured all for His own Beloved and “it is finished.”

—Charles H. Spurgeon, “It Is Finished!” Sermon delivered at Metropolitan Tabernacle, December 1, 1861 (full sermon HERE)

The Significance of the Supper

The Lord’s Supper was never conceived in the early Church, as it came to be by some in later times, as a solemn wake held in sad remembrance of One who died.  From the beginning it was a meal of fellowship, dominated by thanksgiving offered in praise, wonder, and adoration of the Lord of life who had broken the bonds of death and was alive for evermore, really and eternally present with His people.

—William D. Maxwell, Concerning Worship, 14

What Makes This Friday “Good”?

Although Catholics and Protestant in the past have followed somewhat different forms, in both camps the observances have been such as to cause people to ask, “Then why do we call this Friday ‘good’?” Emphasis has been on the seemingly senseless suffering of Jesus rather than on the purposeful humiliation of God through which redemption comes. In other words, we have failed once again to read the sacred story backward. Friday has been observed as if Sunday had never come.

Good Friday can and should proclaim divine purpose as paramount. Indeed, the term “Good Friday” may be a corruption of the English phrase “God’s Friday.” This day is good precisely because God was in control at Calvary. The crucifixion of Jesus was not some bad deal that God had to try to make the best of; it was a working out of divine intention with a view to the salvation of an otherwise doomed creation.

—Laurence Hill Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church, 95-96

Worship as Response

Our worship is our answer to God who has first addressed us. . . . Man worships the God who has made Himself known, and that worship is to be governed, both in fact and in form, by this revelation. We “praise His holy Name”—that is, we worship Him in His self-revelation. If God had not revealed Himself, we could not praise Him.

—William Nicholls, Jacob’s Ladder: The Meaning of Worship, 37

Lavish Worship

MARK 14:3-9

We are in the last week of Jesus’ earthly life here, and we see the opposition mounting, and see the wheels in motion which will result in His arrest and crucifixion. (See 14:1-2; 10-11.) It is against that black fabric of hostility and treachery that Mark sets for us a diamond; a beacon of light that shines brighter because of the darkness surrounding it: Mark gives us an account of

  • absolute devotion in the face of opposition
  • utter adoration in the face of rejection
  • supreme love in the face of bitter hatred.

Mark has inserted this account here almost as a parenthesis, to heighten the contrast with the conspiracy beginning to close in on Him. As G. Campbell Morgan wrote, “There Jesus was, in a dark and desolate land; and lo! out of the heart of a woman, a spring of fresh water sprung for the thirsty Christ! He valued it.”

It would fulfilled all the demands of Middle Eastern hospitality for the woman to bring her alabaster vial and sprinkle a few drops on Jesus— but her heart was so full of adoration, her focus was so totally on Jesus, that she GAVE IT ALL: she broke the bottle, and POURED IT ALL OUT. She understood intuitively that “no sacrifice is too great, if made for Him.” She held nothing back; she gave it all.

You know why Mary’s act of total commitment and love meant so much to Jesus? BECAUSE IT WAS SO CHRISTLIKE— IT WAS SYMBOLIC OF WHAT HE HIMSELF WAS ABOUT TO DO: to hold nothing back, to give Himself completely for the sins of the world, to allow Himself to be “broken and spilled out,” as the Gaither song says, in an act of total selflessness.

“Worship comes from a heart that has been blessed by God, and says so in its own way.” This woman is a true hero of the faith, with her heart brimming and overflowing with grateful devotion to her Lord.”There are many mausoleums that crumble to decay. But this monument to Jesus fills the whole world still with its fragrance” (S. Lewis Johnson). We are fulfilling Jesus’ words in verse 9 even as consider this story right now.

May God help us to learn from this remarkable woman more of what it means to offer our worship, poured out lavishly and without measure from a full heart.

 —Ron Man

When We’re Not All “There”

No parent, no spouse, no friend—and no pastoral leader—can be fully present or emotionally engaged all the time. That may be because of any number of very legitimate reasons: depression, sleeplessness, or an overwhelming concern for a member of one’s own family or congregation. What we can aim for is a Spirit-shaped constancy, in which healthy habits of engagement carry us through when we are not “feeling it” in the moment. Such constancy is no less a gift of the Spirit than a vivid emotionally engaged experience of worship.

—John Witvliet, Reformed Worship 116:45

The Centrality of the Word

In every task of the church, the ministry of the Word of God is central. It is the Word that calls us to worship, addresses us in worship, teaches us how to worship and enables us to praise God and to encourage one another. By the Word we are given life and nurtured to maturity in Christ: the Word is the sword of the Spirit to correct us and the bread of the Spirit to feed us. In the mission of the church, it is the Word of God that calls the nations to the Lord: in the teaching of the Word we make disciples of the nations. The growth of the church is the growth of the Word (Acts 6:7; 12:24; 19:20): where there is a famine of the Word, no expertise in business administration or group dynamics will build Christ’s church.

—Edmund P. Clowney, The Church, 199

Palm Sunday Perspective

It’s the first Palm Sunday, and here comes Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. The crowds begin to shout “Hosanna! Hosanna!” The old donkey pricks up his ears. Some in the crowd throw their coats in the road; others spread out palm branches.

“Well!” says the donkey, switching a fly off a mange patch. “I had no idea they really appreciated me like this! Listen to those hosannas, would you. I must really be something!”

Friends, if anybody comes around after the service saying, “Wow! That was terrific!”— they’re not actually saying hosanna to you.

All you did was bring Jesus to them.

—A. W. Tozer (cited by Anne Ortlund, Up with Worship, 169-70)

The Lord Is King! (hymn text)

The Lord is King! Lift up thy voice, O earth; and all ye heavens, rejoice:
From world to world the joy shall ring,The Lord omnipotent is king.

The Lord is King! Who then shall dare resist His will, distrust His care,
Or murmur at His wise decrees, or doubt His royal promises?

The Lord is King! Child of the dust, the judge of all the earth is just;
Holy and true are all His ways: let every creature speak His praise.

Come, make your wants, your burdens known; Christ will present them at the throne;
For He is at the Father’s side, the Man of Love, the Crucified.

One Lord, one empire, all secures; He reigns, and life and death are yours;
Through earth and heaven one song shall ring, ‘The Lord omnipotent is King!’

—Josiah Conder, 1824

(can be sung to the tunes CHURCH TRIUMPHANT, NIAGARA, OLD HUNDREDTH, CREATION, & others)