Christmas Caroling at Elmcroft of Brentwood
Sunday December 17th, 3;30 PM
This year our Lessons & Carols Service will be December 23rd, 4 PM with a fellowship meal following. We will not have a Christmas Eve Service, but will have Sunday Service Christmas Day at 11 AM. Please join us in our celebration of the Incarnation and Birth of Christ our Savior and King.
We will be celebrating a Maundy Thursday Agape Feast at 6 PM, April 2nd. PLEASE NOTE: Due to a schedule conflict with another group using the church building, we will be having our Maundy Thursday Service at The Classical Academy of Franklin, 500 Del Rio Pike, Franklin, TN. This is a worship service that takes place around tables and a meal, and culminates in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.
The Good Friday Service of Darkness will be held at 7 PM, April 3rd, in the sanctuary at the church (First PCUSA Brentwood, 1301 Franklin Rd). This is a solemn service of confession, scripture reading, and singing, as we meditate upon the suffering and death of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Please join us.
“We give thanks to Thee, O Lord, for all saints and servants of Thine, who have done justly, loved mercy, and walked humbly with their God. For all the high and holy ones, who have wrought wonders and been shining lights in the world, we thank Thee. For all the meek and lowly ones, who have earnestly sought Thee in darkness, and held fast their faith in trial, and done good unto all men as they had opportunity, we thank Thee. Especially for those men and women we have known and loved, who by their patient obedience and self-denial, steadfast hope and helpfulness in trouble, have shown the same mind that was in Christ Jesus, we bless Thy holy name. As they have comforted and upheld our souls, grant us grace to follow in their steps, and at last to share with them in the inheritance of the saints in light; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.” – Book of Common Worship
This Sunday is “Reformation Sunday” in Protestant circles, and one of the primary ways that we will celebrate the Holy Spirit’s work in the Church during this period is by the psalms and hymns that we will sing. Of course, Martin Luther is a central figure, not only for nailing his 95 Theses to the door of The Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, but also for the efforts that he made to reform the liturgy of the church, particularly the music. Famously he wrote “A Mighty Fortress Is our God,” which has become known as the “Battle Hymn of the Reformation.” While we probably think of the Lutheran chorales that emerged as being “slow, solemn, and heavy,” they were originally written “to be lively, energetic tunes, sung in unison with great enthusiasm” (Roff, Let Us Sing, 50). Of course, we’ll be singing the jazzy, rhythmic version of this great hymn.
Musical reformation was also central to the work of John Calvin, particularly in relation to the psalmody of the church. We’ll be singing “I Greet Thee, Who My Sure Redeemer Art,” an original hymn of the Strassburg Psalter which Calvin published in 1539 while ministering to the French refugees in that city. Later, when in Geneva, Switzerland, Louis Bourgeois joined Calvin, and acted as a composer and editor for the Genevan Psalter, which was completed in 1562. One of Bourgeois’ most famous tunes is RENDEZ A DIEU, which we will sing with the text of “Give Thanks unto the Lord, Jehovah” (based on parts of Psalm 118). Claude Goudimel would later add the harmonies to the Genevan Psalter, from which we will be singing Psalm 100, and the latter half of Psalm 68. If “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” is the “Battle Hymn of the Reformation,” then Psalm 68 is arguably the “Battle Psalm of the Reformation.” In a sermon on Psalm 68, Pastor Rob Rayburn provides the following context:
There is something to be said for singing this text to the same tune by which it has been known for centuries, for this is a psalm with a past! That, of course, can be said about all the psalms, as we have been making a point of saying week by week in our studies. All of them have their place in the history of Christian life and devotion through the ages. But it is particularly true of this psalm. Even before the Reformation, before anyone had begun to translate the Psalms into metrical verses and years before Matthäus Greiter had written his tune, this 68th psalm was chanted by Savonarola and his fellow Dominicans as they marched to the grand piazza of Florence where they were to meet their trial by fire. The year was 1497. The Italian Reformer’s preaching had been more than the corrupt Roman establishment could bear and they condemned the good man to death. And he met that death with the strength that only faith, and faith sustained by such a psalm as the 68th, can supply.
But, a few decades later, when the Reformation broke over the church the same psalm sustained the legions of Christians who were now exposed to suffering and persecution for advocating the return to a biblical faith. And the 68th played its great role in strengthening their faith as well. As I have told you before, the psalm became known, especially as a result of its use by the French Huguenots, as The Protestant Psalm of Battles. Listen to this from one scholar of the Calvinist Reformation, that is, in particular the Reformation in French and English speaking Europe.
‘The Calvinist Reformers were led by a militant aristocracy and financed by a wealthy bourgeoisie. They put up long and frequently successful battles. Yet the leadership and finance could not have won the day had the individual Calvinists not possessed, to quote Cromwell,‘a conscience of what they were doing.’ In many cases, they won their battles or retrieved those they had lost, not through generalship nor through greater economic power, but because of superior morale. In building up and maintaining this morale, the battle hymns of the Psalter played a conspicuous part.’ [W. Stanford Reid, The Battle Hymns of the Lord: Calvinist Psalmody of the Sixteenth Century, 36]
One of the Camisards, as the persecuted Protestants of the Cevennes (the hill country of southern France) were called, put it this way: ‘We flew when we heard the sound of the psalms, we flew as if with wings. We felt within us an animating ardour, a transporting desire. The feeling cannot be expressed in words. It is a thing that must have been felt to be known. However weary we might be, we thought no more of our fatigue, and grew light as soon as the psalms reached our ear.’ [In Ker, 96]
Well chief among the psalms that had that ennobling and nerving effect on the believers of the time was the 68th. I’ve told you before that the story goes that the authorities were so unnerved by the confident singing of Psalm 68 by the Protestant party that they outlawed it. Public singing has often been a means of carrying a message into the streets and stamping it upon the public consciousness (think of “We Shall Overcome” in the Civil Rights Movement). And so it was in the Reformation (STUDIES IN THE PSALMS No. 14 Psalm 68 April 18, 2004).
The reformation of music would continue, and in the 1600s notable hymn writers and composers such as Johann Cruger and Paul Gerhardt would supply the church with a treasure trove of hymns. Joachim Neander, “called the greatest of all German-Calvinist Reformed hymn writers,” is probably most famous for “Praise Ye the Lord, the Almighty” (101 Hymn Stories, Osbeck, 209). We will be singing “Wondrous King, All-Glorious,” for which he wrote the text and music.
I am looking forward to celebrating the Reformation, particularly through the musical heritage that we have received as a result. Come and join us.
“Who is this who was born in Bethlehem and now is steadfastly headed for Jerusalem? This is the one who by being crucified and raised will fulfill all that the scriptures have promised. Before the curtain goes up on the action of a dramatic opera, the orchestra plays an overture that hints at the musical themes to follow; so just before the opening of Lent, the transfiguration presents subtle clues to the content of the Forty Days of Devotion and Discipline and the Great Fifty Days of rejoicing that follow.” – Laurence Hull Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church, 137.
February 2, the fortieth day of the nativity, commemorates the presentation of Jesus in the temple (Luke 2:22-40) in accord with the legislation of Leviticus 12:2-8 concerning the firstborn male. Central to this occasion are the two great worthies, Simeon and Anna, whose patient faith is rewarded by great joy. The attribution of Simeon that Jesus shall be a light for revelation to the Gentiles inspired the custom of having a ceremony of candles at the Mass on this day; candles to be used through the next year were blessed on this occasion, and the faithful were given lighted candles, in token of the light of Christ. Hence the observance has been called ‘Candlemas.’
That the day is commonly known as ‘Groundhog Day’ is more than a source of amusement; it is something of a testimony to the enduring power of superstition even among those who say Christ is their light. News reporters, who have no clue to what the Presentation of Jesus is about, rush to see a furry rodent emerge from hibernation as a presumed omen concerning when winter will end. May this be an indicator of the great difficulty with which the Great Exchange comes into our lives?
– Laurence Hull Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church
In the quiet of Holy Saturday, I want to take a moment to reflect on the Lenten Season. From time to time I’ve thought that Lent might be more “effective” if it took place in the dreary days of winter. Somehow that would seem more appropriate, wouldn’t it? (Of course, I’m speaking as a resident in the Northern Hemisphere, which can’t be helped.) When creation in Middle Tennessee is waking up for spring; when the grass and trees are coming into their first brilliant greens of the year; when flowers are blooming and trees blossoming, it’s a greater challenge to meditate upon the suffering of Christ and the gravity of sin. Now, I know that Lent is more than that, but for the sake of discussion let’s be agreed that it’s at least that. Yet, upon further reflection, nature’s testimony of life couldn’t be more fitting. Lent wasn’t devised for the sake of itself, nor is it the end. After Lent comes Easter. After humiliation comes exaltation. After death comes resurrection. God’s creation knows that, and is simply pushing us ahead to the next chapter of the story, telling us that sin and death don’t have the last word. The cross inevitably leads to the empty tomb. Here in Tennessee, nature just can’t keep that truth quiet before Resurrection Sunday arrives. And I’m glad it can’t.
I found this to be creative, tasteful, and moving.
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Today marks the ascension of the Lord Jesus to His throne in Heaven where He reigns as the King of Kings. In Ephesians 4:1-16, Paul provides an interesting list of gifts given to the Church as a result of Christ’s ascension. He writes,
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8Therefore it says,
“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.”
9(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (ESV).
What did Jesus give? His grace. His favor. And that favor is particularly expressed through the giving of people to equip the saints and build up the church. (The gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost as a result of Christ’s ascension appears to underlie this section, particularly verses 3-7.) While Jesus may have bodily ascended, He has not left His Church without help in the form of flesh and blood.
Also note, in verse 8, that Paul quotes from Psalm 68. Meditate on the entirety of that psalm in the light of Christ’s passion, resurrection, and ascension, and it will take on a whole new depth of meaning, inspiring us to sing it all the more vigorously – even this Lord’s Day in our Ascension celebration.