- The following article is by John W. Ourensma from Reformed Worship.
Lenten worship services usually include a time of confession. If they don't, they certainly ought to. This year consider beginning your Lenten worship not in the typical way—with strong praise-filled singing—but rather with a subdued liturgy of confession and assurance of pardon. The people first come confessing, are assured of God's forgiving love, and are then eager and ready to approach God in praise and thanksgiving.
Psalm 116, set to the tune Genevan 116, works very well as part of such a confession/assurance liturgy. It is a beautiful psalm of praise for deliverance, for answered prayer. Helen Otte's unrhymed versification, one of several she prepared for the 1987 Psalter Hymnal, speaks in clear, direct language.
The service might be arranged something like this:
Prelude: [Use one of several available preludes based on Genevan 116 (see Bibliography of Organ Music, available from CRC Publications). As a simpler, shorter alternative, play the tune through twice— once as written on one keyboard, the second time with left hand and pedal on the lower three parts, the right hand playing the tune on a pleasant solo stop. The latter is short (about 1 minute), but effective.]
Call to Confession: [After the call to confession, pastor and people respond in these words from Psalm 116:1-2:]
I love the Lord, for he hears my voice.
He will hear my cry for mercy.
Because he turned his ear to me
I will call on him as long as I live.
Prayer of Confession: [Print a prayer (composed by the pastor or another worship planner) in the bulletin for all to read.]
Silent, Personal Prayers of Confession: [The pastor should invite the congregation to pray silently. Twenty to thirty seconds is suggested, though it may seem long to some.]
Singing of Psalm 116: (unannounced)
stanza 1: [soloist, possibly unaccompanied, right out of the silent prayer time.]
stanza 2: [choir joins in unison with organ playing harmony. After the first Sunday, you may want to try this stanza unaccompanied, in parts.]
stanzas 3-5: [Entire congregation, organ accompaniment.]
Assurance of Pardon: [After the pastor reads appropriate Scripture, pastor and congregation read the following responsively (based on Psalm 116:5-7):]
The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion.
The Lord protects the simple- hearted;
when I was in great need, he saved me.
Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the
Lord has been good to you!
Friends, believe the good news of our faith.
In the life, death and resurrection of
Jesus Christ, we are healed and forgiven!
Prayer: (all stand) [This should be a thankful, uplifting prayer of praise by the pastor.]
Congregational Response: (standing) [Choose a doxology or similarly brief, well-known hymn. Given the length of Psalm 116, this song can be strong but brief.]
With a few adjustments, this opening section could lead directly into your normal order of service. You should feel free to adjust the amount of congregational response/involvement according to your preference. Remember, though, that reading psalms responsively is as old a practice as the psalms themselves and should be encouraged.
My congregation has used this basic format and similar material during the past two Lenten seasons. We plan two complete versions with the same order and format, but with different responses and songs. These two versions are then used alternately on the first five Sundays of Lent. The value of this opening liturgy of confession is reflected in remarks from the congregation:
"It focused my attention on the need to confess my sin regularly, and showed me how to do so."
"It demonstrated how responsive readings and a hymn/song can complement each other."
"It focused my attention on how God's love for me never fails—even though I fail him."
"It prepared me to better praise God, after I had confessed my sin and received his peace."
The fine Genevan 116 tune, as harmonized by Seymour Swets, is eminently singable and easily learned—a tune which first appeared in the 1562 edition of Calvin's Genevan Psalter and still speaks today with majestic beauty. Organists should be particular about keeping the rhythm moving and flowing (J = 69-72 works well). The two half notes in the middle of each of the four phrases must be accurate, or the flow will falter. Allow the quarter-note groups in each phrase to move ahead just a bit. At the end of the first phrase, a concise quarter rest is needed to prepare for phrase 2. The unaccented final notes (and words) of phrases 2 and 3 should be shortened to quarter-note values, followed by a quarter rest to prepare for the emphatic first notes (and words) of phrases 3 and 4.
- The following article is from the Psalter Hymnal Handbook.
A thank offering of praise for deliverance from death in answer to prayer.
st. 1 = vv.1-4
st. 2 = vv. 5-7
st. 3 = vv. 8-11
st. 4 = vv.12-14 st. 5 = vv. 15-19
This sixth of eight "hallelujah" psalms (111-118) stands fourth in the "Egyptian Hallel" used in Jewish liturgy at the annual religious festivals prescribed in the Torah. At Passover, Psalms 113 and 114 were sung before the meal; 115 through 118 were sung after the meal. In this liturgical use, the singular personal pronoun was understood corporately, and the references to "death" alluded to Israel's slavery in Egypt. The "cup of salvation" (v. 13; st. 4) probably referred originally to the festal cup of wine that climaxed a thank offering for a special deliverance or blessing. When this psalm was used in the Passover celebration, the "cup of salvation" was no doubt understood to be the cup of wine accompanying that festal meal.
In singing this psalm, we join the psalmist in confessing our love for the LORD for deliverance from death in answer to prayer (st. 1). And we praise God's gracious ways that encourage us to keep trusting and to rest in the LORD (st. 2). The psalmist notes that faith had not failed in the time of crisis (st. 3); together we vow to praise the LORD among the saints and continue to call upon God's name (st. 4-5). Helen Otte wrote the unrhymed versification in 1980 for the Psalter Hymnal. Another setting of Psalm 116 is at 178.
Occasions of thanksgiving for healing; Lent; Easter; Lord's Supper (especially st. 4).
GENEVAN 116 was first published in the 1562 edition of the Genevan Psalter, in which it was also the setting for Psalm 74. Seymour Swets (b. South Holland, IL, 1900; d. Grand Rapids, MI, 1982) harmonized the tune in 1954. This Mixolydian tune is one of the simplest, finest, and most loved of the Genevan repertoire. It is suitable for unison or part singing; sing in a majestic manner.
A 1922 graduate of Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, with a major in history, Swets received his M.A. from the University of Michigan in 1923. Later that year he was appointed to the Calvin College faculty to teach speech and to establish a music program. He taught at Calvin College until 1967 and was largely responsible for the remarkable growth of its music department. A chronicle of that era appears in his book, Fifty Years of Music at Calvin College (1973). Swets served on the committees that prepared the 1934 and the 1959 editions of the Psalter Hymnal and contributed harmonizations to both books.
- Visit hymnary.org for more information on this song and additional resources.