Taste and See: The Lord’s Prayer

13 09 2010

As the third lesson in our series on prayer, we focused on one of the most liturgically familiar prayers from Scripture: the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13).  This particular prayer has been a part of Christian liturgy and tradition from the very beginning of Christendom; one of the earliest extant Christian documents, the Didache, instructs believers to pray three times a day.  It includes the text of the Lord’s prayer as an example.

Most of my students grew up attending traditional worship services, where this prayer is said every week.  As such, most of them learned the words out of repetition.  In the lesson, I hoped to capitalize on the familiarity of this prayer while also bringing them to a new understanding of the words.

Beforehand, I created giant signs out of construction paper (tied with yarn) that included short phrases from the Lord’s Prayer.  On the back of the signs, I included Scripture references (for use later in the lesson):

Our Father in heaven: Luke 11:11-13, Psalm 103:13

Hallowed be your name: Nehemiah 9:4-6, Isaiah 6:1-4

Your kingdom come: Mark 1:14-15, Mark 12:28-34, Luke 13:18-21

Your will be done: Psalm 139:15-16, Psalm 40:8, Isaiah 55:9-11

On earth as it is in heaven: Philippians 2:5-11, Revelation 5:13-14

Give us today our daily bread: Matthew 6:25, 31-34; Exodus 16:1-4

Forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors: Colossians 2:13-15; Matthew 6:14-15, Leviticus 25:39-41

Lead us not into temptation: James 1:12-15; Matthew 4:1-2

Deliver us from the evil one: 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5, Acts 2:18-21

I hung one signs on each student’s back (so they could not read what they had); then, in total silence, they had to get themselves in order.  Only after they finished did they get to see what sign they had, and read the prayer together.  Then we talked about their own personal experience with this prayer (Is this familiar to you? How did you learn it? What does it mean to you? Do you have any particular memories of this prayer? etc.)

We looked up the original text of the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13), and then I invited the youth to split off by themselves and silently read and reflect on the Scripture references on the back of their signs (if we had had  a really big group, I would have had them do this in small groups).  Then we came back together, and I had each student share their portion of the Lord’s Prayer, with a paraphrase or explanation based on the Scripture passages that they had just read.  (The main question here was, “Why is this  particular phrase important to the prayer as a whole?”)

Then, we took a step back and read Matthew 6:5-13, focusing in especially on verses 6-8. How does Jesus’ sample prayer actually fulfill the instructions about prayer that he gives during the Sermon on the Mount?

Appropriately enough, we closed our session with the Lord’s Prayer!

Happy New Year!

1 12 2009

It’s officially Advent–truly, the most wonderful time of the year!  And even though my Advent got off to a less-than-holy start (we skipped church and drove all day long back to Atlanta), I’m excited about what the season has to hold (you know, in addition to moving and finding jobs and starting over again).

Over at Emerging Women, Kim Wilkens quotes from her father’s Advent Devotional: “I once met a don (professor) at Oxford University who scheduled his life according to the church’s calendar: its seasons, its saints’ days, and its liturgical hours. He refused to use or even to acknowledge the more arithmetic 12-month, numbered-day, 24-hour-subdivided Julian calendar that most of us follow. Making an appointment with him was difficult, to say the least…perhaps we might pay a bit more attention to our distinctive, somewhat countercultural church calendar. There could be some pleasantly surprising gifts awaiting us…”

Growing up, we had an Advent calendar that we hung on our refrigerator every year. Each night in December, my sister and I would take turns uncovering the day’s image. And by Christmas Eve, all the images came together to make one big Christmas picture. Even though the calendar has fallen apart (I think we finally got rid of it last year or so), the idea of the Advent calendar is one of my favorite ways to think about this season: a countdown coming a little closer to the big picture every day.   And if we will let it, each day will reveal a little bit more of that picture to us.

So one of my New Year’s resolutions is to be more intentional about following the Christian calendar in my own devotions and become more in tune with liturgical traditions.  I’m not sure what that will look like yet, but I’ll be sure to keep you posted.

And by the way–Julie Clawson wrote a beautiful post on the meaning of Advent: “Waiting for something beautiful to be born – for joy to fully enter your life – is hard.  The child is already there, the joy is present, but you still long for its arrival.”

This is the Song that Doesn’t End…

3 11 2009

Jordan and I attended a mini-lecture tonight at Emory University given by Ed Phillips, associate professor of worship and liturgical theology at Candler School of Theology.  He focused on a familiar passage from the United Methodist Communion Prayer:

“And so, with  your people on earth and all the company of heaven we praise your name and join their unending hymnHolyholyholy Lord, God of power and might, Heaven and earth are full of your glory…”

This “unending hymn” is described in the book of Isaiah and then again in the Revelation of John.  Apparently all the company of heaven is continuously singing of the holiness of the Lord God.  And when we sing that familiar hymn, we  are literally singing along with them.  This liturgy in particular, and corporate worship in general, connects us with something deep and wonderful: with our brothers and sisters from all Christian denominations around the globe; with the history of the church and the most ancient written liturgies; with the original writers of the Bible, through their visions; with the saints and angels in heaven; and with God Himself.

Dr. Phillips’ talk really brought us into a new understanding of corporate worship; not as something we create, or do; but as something that we join.  We add our voices into the history and tradition of the church universal, lifting our songs to heaven.  In that sense, worship can never truly be an individual thing.

For us as musicians, this is an important and humbling concept: one that reaches into the heart and true purpose of worship.  We talk a lot about how church services should not be a performance, but in striving for excellence in artistry and musicianship, it is sometimes difficult to draw the line between worship and performance.  But this idea of “joining in the unending hymn” means that you have to acknowledge that the church is bigger than your church walls, and that your particular service is only one small piece of the bigger song, which will continue forever, with or without you.  Then you start to realize that this God thing is bigger than you could ever imagine and you definitely want to be a part of it, giving your all to the God of power and might, who was and is and is to come.

In Defense of the Forgotten Hymnal

15 08 2009

Over at iMonk, Michael Spencer has started a series of posts on the “Evangelical Liturgy,”  where he explores in-depth all of the different aspects that come together to create a worship service.  Today’s entry, “The Toolbox,” looks at the resources that guide our worship.  He lists 9 tools: the Bible, the hymnal, creeds & confessions, worship books & directories, congregationally developed resources, the church covenant, the Christian year, the lectionary, and common musical responses.

I have to admit, my gut reaction was: doesn’t that seem a little, well, liturgical?  I would go as far as to assume that all worship services can stand to benefit from using certain liturgical practices in certain contexts, but to use all of them at once?  How could you have anything except a traditional, ritualistic worship service?

Some of the commentors agreed with me, or at least agreed with my starting place: contemporary worship.  One asked:

“Please clarify – when you refer to the “hymnal”, are you referring to a collection of the hymns themselves, or are you also referring the format of binding them all in a book, with musical notes, for people to hold while they sing? Is the format itself important?
In other words, if a church sang those same hymns perhaps using some aids other than a hymnbook (overhead projection, or maybe just memory), would you deem that sufficient for the liturgical toolbox?”

Spencer’s reply:

“People asking if we can project the hymnal: Yes, but you will get far fewer benefits. Why don’t we just project the Bible and everyone can avoid actually having one. Then their hands will be free to twitter the sermon :-) No, seriously. Let people have a book in their hands if they want. Teach the music. Let them browse the indices so they don’t say things like all the hymns are the last 140 years. Let them read the small print and the liturgical resources.”


“You can read the texts.
You can read the indices.
You can see the scriptures that go with the songs.
You can learn to sing and to read music. (I did.)
You can learn the composers and writers.
You can discover there are Catholics in your Baptist hymnal.
You can discover cultural diversity.
You can discover history.”

That hit hard.  I grew up attending a traditional worship service with my family and actually remember when I resisted the impulse to move into “contemporary” worship.  (The change only happened when I began playing violin with the band and discovering the art of improvisation.  For me,  then, making music became one form of authentic worship.)

But… I grew up on liturgy.  I sat next to my grandparents, who looked ahead in their bulletin and opened the hymnal to the page of the next song.  And I spent many services thumbing through that hymnal and discovering how it worked.  As a budding classical musician, I was so excited to find out that Felix Mendelssohn wrote the tune for “Hark!  The Herald Angels Sing” or that “Be Still, My Soul” is based on the melody of “Finlandia.”  (To this day, it remains one of my favorite hymns for that very reason).  After learning about the forefathers of our faith in Sunday School, I started noticing hymns like “Come, O Thou Traveler Unknown” and “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” written by Charles Wesley and Martin Luther, respectively.  I appreciated and memorized the creeds in the back of the hymnal.  I played games in the index.

And because of this, I think I have developed a deep appreciation for all forms of worship music.  Although we are seeking out a “contemporary” worship service in our current church search, it saddens me to think that as a church, we could lose the collective memory that is contained within these hymns.  iMonk is more blunt:

“We are nothing short of idiots for getting rid of them [hymnals], and I choose that word carefully. Who in the world decided that we would throw out two thousands years of worship because it didn’t fit in with our current plan to sound like the secular music of the last 40 years? Good grief, what a demolition job this has been. I know a lot of young people “like” the new music, but we have a responsibility to those who came before us, not to prefer or like what they did as much as they did, but to use it with respect and honor for the value that is in it. Handing the entire musical and lyrical heritage of two millenia of Christianity over to a “worship leader” to be eradicated in favor of contemporary music only is insane.”

Just as I received a Bible from my church when I began third grade, I received a hymnal when I graduated from high school.  What a gift, and precious resource, it has been for me!  I don’t read it everyday, but it stays on my bookshelf and is used more often than you might think.  Although having children is definitely a prospect for the far-away future, I do hope that, no matter what kind of church we attend, I can still teach them some of these songs of the faith.

Now, I’m not saying that the hymnal is perfect (and maybe we need a hymnal that includes BOTH new and old).  Nor am I saying that worship bands should only sing outdated hymns–although I do think we could do better in that respect.   The song itself is the same whether played with an organ or with an electric guitar.  But even the most hymn-conscious worship leaders tend to stick to the “safe” songs, like “How Great Thou Art” and “It is Well With My Soul,” and even then, they only play the most well-known verses.  (My personal pet peeve is when they leave out the “When we’ve been there ten thousand years…” verse of “Amazing Grace”)

But it’s not just about adding them to the musical repertoire.  We can learn from not just the melody of these hymns but also from their message and history.  (Don’t believe me? Read this fascinating history of “Jesus loves me”!!)  If we can base entire sermons around songs by U2, why not around “Holy, Holy, Holy,” as well?  And how much richer would our “toolbox” be if we regularly drew upon the entire 2000-year liturgical history of Christendom?

Whew!  Who knew I was so passionate about hymns?

Update (8/22/09): If you want to read more about the hymnal at iMonk, read his newer post “The Hymnal,” in which he calls upon a panel of experts from varying religious traditions to unpack the role of the hymnal.