This Sunday will be a Service of Compassion. We will seek to open our hearts in compassion not only to the victims of oppression, discrimination and hardship, but also to those who struggle to help them. We know the heartbreak we feel when someone in our family is suffering and we are helpless to fix the problem–this is the heartbreak Christ calls us into for the whole world, a compassion we feel that makes us deserving of compassion for our own empathic pain. It is the heartbreak of the cross. It is the wilderness of Lent. Yet we know that there is resurrection, there is emerging from the wilderness full of the Spirit’s power. This Sunday’s service will explore where we can find faith and hope within the struggle to love a suffering world.
We will take our One Great Hour of Sharing offering, and we will again try on the proposed Open and Affirming Covenant to experience how it feels within the prayerful context of worship. We will hear three scriptures about finding the hidden spring of God’s mercy and love within our messy struggles: Exodus 17:1-7, the story of God giving the children of Israel water from a rock in the wilderness; Romans 5:1-5, Paul’s well known passage about suffering, hope and love; and John 4:5-29, the story of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well.
We will sing two beloved hymns of comfort and assurance, I Look to Thee in Every Need and Jesus, Lover of My Soul. We will also sing a stirring and challenging anti-slavery hymn from before the Civil War by James Russell Lowell, that begins:
Men, whose boast it is that ye
Come of fathers brave and free,
If there breathe on earth a slave,
Are ye truly free and brave?
The choir will sing an even more challenging Introit written by Brian Wren in response to the struggle of white South Africans to address the injustice to blacks there. It says,
Spirit of Jesus, if I love my neighbor
out of my knowledge, leisure, power or wealth,
open my mind to understand the anger
of helplessness that hates my power to help.
And if, when I have answered need with kindness,
my neighbor rises, wakened from despair,
open my heart to hear the cry for justice
that struggles for the changes that I fear.
I know of no hymn or text of any kind that brings home so poignantly the need for compassion for both victim and those who follow Christ and try to help the victim.
The choir will sing as an Anthem, “Lo, a voice to heaven sounding” by D. S. Bortniansky. Organist John Atwood will play pieces by J.S. Bach and his uncle, J.C. Bach as well as Louis-Nicolas Clerambault.
Here are two recordings. The first is the full fifteen minute piece by Clerambault–the part John will play comes at the end. The second is the comforting piece by J. S. Bach that he will play.