Easter for Christians is not just one day, but rather a 50-day period. The season of Easter, or Eastertide, begins at sunset on the eve of Easter and ends on Pentecost, the day we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church (see Acts 2).
Easter is also more than just an extended celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. In the early church, Lent was a season for new converts to learn about the faith and prepare for baptism on Easter Sunday. The initial purpose of the 50-day Easter season was to continue the faith formation of new Christians.
Today, this extended season gives us time to rejoice and experience what it means when we say Christ is risen. It’s the season when we remember our baptisms and how through this sacrament we are, according to the liturgy, “incorporated into Christ’s mighty acts of salvation.” As “Easter people,” we also celebrate and ponder the birth of the Church and gifts of the Spirit (Pentecost), and how we are to live as faithful disciples of Christ.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent. It derives its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of adherents as a sign of mourning and repentance to God.
And Chuck Knows Church says…
Ever seen a little smudge mark on someone’s forehead as they walk out of church? That’s a sign of the cross and it means it’s Ash Wednesday during Lent. Chuck tells you about this important worship service:
Transfiguration Sunday. The Transfiguration of Jesus is an event reported by the Synoptic Gospels in which Jesus is transfigured upon a mountain. Why is this event lifted up and celebrated?
Transfiguration Sunday might not be a common observance in the United Methodist tradition. There are those who do attempt to pay attention to this significant moment in the life and ministry of Jesus, but many do not. Now would be a time to take a moment and consider this event.
This is the one who calls us to follow. We can always ask which is the real Jesus? Is it the one who gets his hands dirty with the mud and spit of this world, or is it the one who stands on the mountain top and glows with a radiance divine? Well, of course, the answer is yes! Yes, it is both. The human Jesus and the divine Christ. The transcendent part of the Trinity of God, and the immanent, incarnate human laid in a manger and nailed to a cross, the one who walked and taught and healed and loved on earth just like you. Yet not like you. More than you. A glimpse of what you might be. A hint of what you were created to be. An invitation and a hope.
It is not the task of the preacher or the worship team to explain transfiguration. Thanks be to God. But to stand with the congregation in open-mouthed wonder at the fullness of the Christ we worship. In this in between moment, before we launch into Lent, we catch our breath by standing on the mountaintop with Peter and John and James. And we watch Jesus do something unexplainable. The Transfiguration has always been a puzzle to the church, raising more questions than answers. At its heart, the event presents the “otherness” of Jesus, even as it celebrates his oneness with his followers. There is always more to Jesus than we can know or figure out. And that’s a good thing. We worship one who can still take our breath away in wonder and awe.
So, sing the songs about the glory and grandeur of God and of Jesus. And if you’re not singing just yet, then listen to them. Get carried away by the wonder and the beauty of the Christ who calls us to follow. This is a moment for reaching beyond yourself, beyond everyone, and simply basking in the light that is the Christ. Worship today should be about lifting us up, higher than we thought we could reach. It should be deep, more profound than we have attempted before. Speak of the mysteries and the promises of eternity beyond the grasp of our human brain to comprehend.
Our prayers should be statements of praise and awe. Our confession should be full of the realization that we have diminished the wonder of Christ, that we have reduced God to something that we could grasp, simply because it makes us feel better about ourselves.
Provide the worshipers with an experience that is all-encompassing, that gathers them up and sparks the imagination and the hope. The response might be tears or might be laughter; both are appropriate in the awesomeness of God.
At the same time, in the face of the awestruck wonder, there is also a call to follow, to stay close to the one we worship. Even the voice on the mountain told us to listen to him. Now is the time, if you haven’t before in the series, or even if you have, to come to the altar and declare your intention to follow where he leads. Now is the time to follow him down the mountain and to remember that the commandment to not tell was given to them, but not to us. We are to tell anyone and everyone. We are to live our telling, walk our proclamation.
But the key will be for us to keep the focus off ourselves and our successes and failures and instead keep our eyes on the Christ. That’s the emphasis of the title for this Transfiguration Sunday: “But Only Jesus.” We are surrounded by distractions and responsibilities aplenty. We are overwhelmed by injustice and oppression; we are almost overwhelmed by needs and brokenness, our own and that which envelops us. But in the end, it is only Jesus. The source of the strength and the focus of our attention is only Jesus. To be sure, this does not mean that we don’t care about that which surrounds us. In fact, if anything, we are even more eager to be at work in the world, bringing hope and healing, bringing justice and freedom. But it is not to our own benefit that we work in the world, but only Jesus.
Let our worship be that which lifts up the name of Jesus through our work and our service, through our passion and our commitment, through our songs and our prayers, through our compassion and our caring. Let us worship only Jesus.
“God of Grace and God of Glory”
Harry Emerson Fosdick The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 577
God of grace and God of glory,
on thy people pour thy power;
crown thine ancient church’s story;
bring her bud to glorious flower.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
for the facing of this hour.
Pender Opening Hymn “God of Grace and God of Glory” May 22, 2022 accompanied by flute and cello.
“God of grace and God of glory” was written in 1930 by Harry Emerson Fosdick (1878-1969) for the dedication of the famous Riverside Church in New York City.
Fosdick was granted degrees from Colgate University and Union Theological Seminary. He was ordained in 1903 to ministry in the Baptist Church and became pastor of First Baptist Church, Montclair, N.J.
Fosdick served as a chaplain during World War I and then was pastor of First Presbyterian Church in New York City. From this congregation he was called to pastor Park Avenue Baptist Church, which was renamed Riverside Church.
As we sing this hymn, perhaps it is helpful to remind ourselves of the events that shaped the “hour” and the “days” that provide the context for this great hymn.
“God of grace and God of glory” was written while the United States was in the throes of the Great Depression between the two World Wars. Fosdick was a champion of the social gospel, a movement that recognized the plight of the poor, especially in the urban Northeast during the Industrial Revolution.
UM Hymnal editor Carlton Young has noted: “Fosdick’s stirring radio sermons, books, and public pronouncements established Riverside as a forum for the critique of the same wealth and privilege whose gifts had made possible the building of the church.
“Under his leadership Riverside Church was interdenominational, interracial, without a creed, and, astonishingly for Baptists, required no specific mode of baptism. At the center of Fosdick’s ministry was urban social ministry.”
Fosdick was perhaps the most vocal proponent of the social gospel of his time—a position that brought both wide acclaim and broad disdain.
The congregation moved to a $5 million edifice made possible by a gift from John D. Rockefeller Jr. The new building overlooked the Hudson River in what Fosdick called “a less swank district” than Park Avenue, where the congregation had been located near Harlem.
The hymn was written in the summer of 1930. It took shape as he reflected on the construction of the new building, and was first sung as the processional hymn at the opening service on Oct. 5, 1930, and again at the dedication on Feb. 8, 1931.
The language of the hymn is ultimately that of petition. “Grant us wisdom, grant us courage” concludes each stanza with the effect of a refrain. A petition begins stanza three with “Cure thy children’s warring madness,/ bend our pride to thy control.” The final stanza, equally prophetic, begins with “Save us from weak resignation/ to the evils we deplore.”
Fosdick wrote the text to be sung to the stately REGENT SQUARE (usually sung to “Angels from the realms of glory”). Methodist hymnologist and hymnal editor Robert G. McCuthan, however, first paired it with the Welsh tune CWM RHONDDA for the 1935 Methodist Hymnal. It was an immediate success and the new coupling has been almost universally adopted.
Hymnologist William Reynolds says Fosdick disapproved strongly of the new pairing. When Dr. Young asked the poet why he continued to oppose the use of CWM RHONDDA with his text, Fosdick replied, “My views are well known—you Methodists have always been a bunch of wise guys.”
That discussion notwithstanding, I object to the tempo played by many organists who take the hymn much too fast at the beginning, forcing the congregation to race through the prophetic petitions that conclude each stanza. The Welsh tune demands an appropriately stately tempo (think “processional,” not “horse race”) that gives the congregation time to absorb the challenges offered by the poet.
The Pender UMC Traditional Service Middle Hymn “It is Well With My Soul” on Sunday November 13, 2022 was played by Liz Eunji Moon on piano, directed by Brian Stevenson and sung the Pender Sanctuary Choir and congregation.
The hymn “It Is Well With My Soul” was written by a successful Christian lawyer called Horatio Spafford.
His only son died at age 4 in 1871. That year, the Great Chicago Fire wiped out his vast estate, made from a successful legal career.
In 1873 he sent his wife Anna and four daughters over to Europe on a summer trip on the ill-fated SS Ville du Havre. Since he had a lot of work to do, he had planned to travel to England with his family on the SS Ville du Havre, to help with D. L. Moody’s upcoming evangelistic campaigns. In a late change of plan, he sent the family ahead while he was delayed on business concerning zoning problems following the Great Chicago Fire.
On November 22 the ship was struck by an iron sailing vessel killing 226 people, including all four of Spafford’s daughters: Annie, age 12; Maggie, 7; Bessie, 4; and an 18-month old baby. His wife survived the tragedy.
Upon arriving in England, she sent a telegram to Spafford that read “Saved alone.”
Shortly afterwards, as Spafford traveled to meet his grieving wife, he was inspired to write these words as his ship passed near where his daughters had died.;Bliss called his tune Ville du Havre, from the name of the stricken vessel.
It is Well With My Soul
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
It is well with my soul,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!
And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.