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Dying Well - Genesis 25, 49

The sixth service plan in a series entitled "Chapters of Life." The focus of this service is the reality of death--even within the Christian life--and the hope the gospel brings of being able to "die well" and enter eternal glory.

Worship Service
Also in this Series

The Chapters of Life

This series of worship services explores how children and adults can participate together with integrity to give honor to God while paying credit to the significance of each age level.

Theme of the Service

The focus of this service is the reality of death (even within the Christian life) and the hope the gospel brings of being able to "die well" and enter eternal glory. It is the final of the six messages on "The Chapters of Life."

The elements of the liturgy will center on three ideas: the realization that all the chapters of life eventually lead to this one ("the closing pages"), the assurance that as Christians we are able to walk the final part of life's journey richly when surrounded by the love of God and our loved ones, and the glorious hope of eternal life through the victory of Jesus Christ.

"I am the resurrection and the life.
He who believes in me will live, even though he dies,
and whoever lives and believes in me will never die."
John 11:25-26


Prelude: "On Eagle's Wings," Callahan [organ], Organ [piano], Honoré [handbells]
"Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise," Burkhardt, Haan, or Held [organ], Wagner [handbells]
"I Know That My Redeemer Lives," Burkhardt [organ], David [piano], Sherman [handbells]

The Call to Worship
The Lord Jesus who calls us to worship him today
is the same Jesus who refused the temptation
to worship the evil one.
Rather than receive the glorious kingdoms of this world,
he endured the shame of the cross,
and today is Lord of lords and King of kings.
Now are gathered in him all the treasures
of wisdom and knowledge, glory and power.
With the saints of all ages we say,
"Worthy is the lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom
and strength and honor and glory and praise!" (based on Colossians 2:3 and Revelation 5:12)

*Song of Praise: "Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise" (st. 1-3) PH 263, PsH 460, RL 7, RN 46, TH 38, TWC 62, UMH 103
or "I Know That My Redeemer Lives" (st. 1-4) TWC 239

*Our Declaration of Trust and God's Greeting:
Congregation of Jesus Christ, in whom are you trusting?
Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

*Response: "Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise (st. 4)
or "I Know That My Redeemer Lives" (st. 5)


The Call to Confession

Our Prayer of Confession
Merciful God,
for the things we have done that we regret,
forgive us;
for the things we have failed to do that we regret,
forgive us;
for all the times we have acted without love,
forgive us;
for all the times we have reacted without thought,
forgive us;
for all the times we have withdrawn care,
forgive us;
for all the time we have failed to forgive,
forgive us;
for hurtful words said and helpful words unsaid,
for unfinished tasks and unfulfilled hopes,
God of all time,
forgive and help us
to lay down our burden of regret. Amen.

The Assurance of God's Pardon: Isaiah 44:21-22a
"Remember these things, O Jacob,
for you are my servant, O Israel.
I have made you, you are my servant;
O Israel, I will not forget you.
I have swept away your offenses like a cloud,
your sins like the morning mist."
This is the word of the Lord for you this day.

*Our Song of Thanks: "Father, Long Before Creation" (st. 1-4) PsH 464, RL 353

God's Call to Grateful Living: Exodus 20:1-17


The Offering of Music: "The Lord, My Shepherd, Rules My Life," Held [organ], Sanborn [piano]
or "How Can I Keep From Singing," Mc Fadden [handbells], Boertje [piano]

Our Gift Offerings


The Children's Moment

*Song: "I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry" WOV 770
or "O God, Your Constant Care and Love" (st. 1, 4) PsH 592

The Prayer for Illumination

The Reading of Scripture: Genesis 25:7-11; 49:29-33
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God!

Sermon: "Dying Well" (When the Last Pages Are Written)
(The Chapters of Life - #6)

Song: "The Lord, My Shepherd, Rules My Life" (st. 1, 5) PsH 23

The Prayer of Application


Anthem: "How Can I Keep From Singing," Honoré
or "Shepherd Me, O God," Haugen

A Personal Testimony (see Liturgy Notes)

Song: "Those Who Wait Upon the Lord" (st. 1-3) SFL 215

A Personal Testimony

*Our Profession of Assurance
My only comfort in life and in death
is that I am not my own but belong-
body and soul,
in life and in death-
to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood
and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.

He also watches over me in such a way
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven;
in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.

Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Hoy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life
and makes me whole-heartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him. (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 1)

A Personal Testimony

Song: "When Peace Like a River" (st. 1, 4) PsH 489, TH 691, TWC 519 UMH 377

Intercessory Prayers

  • for those suffering, weak, and shut-in
  • for those recently bereaved
  • thanks for the testimony of those who died well

Song: "Precious Lord, Take My Hand" (st. 1-3) PH 404, PsH 493, TWC 638, UMH 474

*A Litany of Hope
Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though
he dies."
He also said, "I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life."
We long for that day when Jesus will return as triumphant king, when the dead will be raised
and all people will stand before his judgment.
We face that day without fear, for the Judge is our Savior.
For then we will see the Lord face to face.
He will heal our hurts, end our wars, and make the crooked straight.
Then we will join in the new song to the Lamb without blemish who made us a kingdom
and priests.
God will be all in all, righteousness and peace will flourish, everything will be
made new,
And every eye will see at last that our world belongs to God!
Hallelujah! Come Lord Jesus. (from John 11:25; 6:47; Our World Belongs to God, art. 57, 58)

*The Benediction with Congregational Amen!

*Our Song of Hope: " Jerusalem the Golden" (st. 1, 4) PsH 618, RL 579, TH 539, TWC 754
or "Shall We Gather at the River" TWC 687, WOV 690, UMH 723

Postlude: "Shall We Gather at the River," Wood [organ]
or "I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry," Albrecht [piano]

* you are invited to stand

Sermon Notes:

  1. The setting for this sermon should be created by reviewing the previous five subjects that have been covered in this series of messages on "The Chapters of Life." Only mention them to stir the memory of each, no need to summarize or repeat them!
  2. It probably would be wise to admit our ambivalence about this subject at the beginning of the message. On the one hand, death and dying is not a subject very easily and openly discussed in a "polite" society. It's a subject that is too raw for us, especially if we find it difficult to think about our own mortality. Yet, on the other hand, many of us are caregivers for loved ones who are in their closing days, or have fresh wounds of grief, or sense that this chapter is not too far off. So, in spite of our discomfort with the subject, it's important to say that it's OK to talk publicly in worship about death and dying.
  3. It is also important to point out that there is such a thing as "dying well." Though death is an enemy, and all dying is painful, Christians are able to walk through the dying experience together in a way that is healthy and faith-filled and creates positive memories.
  4. The two Scripture passages include the biblical record of the deaths of Abraham (at 175 years) and his grandson Jacob (at 147 years). An analysis of these two settings, as the Holy Spirit preserved them for us, gives us five ingredients of a "good death":
    1. Acceptance. They did not avoid the idea, deny it, refuse to talk about it, but accepted it openly and made it an open subject of discussion within their family.
    2. Age. They were full of years according to the life expectancy of their day. For us, it's easier to accept death when it comes after many years. The hardest ones to accept are those we call "premature deaths."
    3. Fullness of years. This is not a reference to the number of the years, but to the quality, value, and content of the years. Some live many years with little "fullness"; others live fewer years with much more.
    4. Preparation. Both Abraham and Jacob anticipated and planned for their deaths and gathered loved ones around them for precious final conversations of instruction and blessing.
    5. Gathered. Both Abraham and Jacob were "gathered to their people." The initial reference may seem to indicate where they were buried, but the New Testament helps us to see this is a reference to their entrance into the church triumphant with all the other saints of God. This phrase, therefore, can be explained only when the gospel of Christ's victory is considered.
  5. Pastoral concerns would lead us to point out a variety of important personal convictions that are necessary to face death this way. We must know that we were created for more than this life, that we belong to God through Jesus Christ, that Jesus conquered death for us, that Jesus will walk with us through the valley of death, and that we can confidently expect to enter heaven at the moment of death.
  6. Two other considerations will also shape this sermon. The one who preaches it will be able to do so more sensitively if he or she has realistically faced his or her own mortality. And it will serve the congregation well to be reminded that we must treasure and give thanks for the beautiful legacy of those among us who have "died well" with a Christian testimony.

Music Notes:

Glossary of Hymnal Abbreviations:
PH The Presbyterian Hymnal (Presbyterian Church USA; Westminster/John Knox Press)
PsH The Psalter Hymnal (Christian Reformed Church; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
RL Rejoice in the Lord (Reformed Church in America; W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)
RN Renew! (Hope Publishing Company)
SFL Songs for LiFE (children's songbook; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
SNC Sing! A New Creation (Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Christian Reformed Church,
Reformed Church in America; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
TH Trinity Hymnal (Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian Church in America; Great
Commission Publications)
TWC The Worshiping Church (Hope Publishing Company)
UMH The United Methodist Hymnal (United Methodist Publishing House)
WOV With One Voice ( Augsburg Fortress)

  1. The prelude suggestions can be found in the following sources:
    • "On Eagle's Wings" is arranged by Charles Callahan for organ in "This Is the Feast," published by CPH 97-6575 [1996] (E-M); Anne Krentz Organ for piano in "On Eagle's Wings," published by Augsburg 11-10711 [1996] (M); and Jeffrey Honoré for 3-5 octaves handbell choir, published by CPH 97-6429 [1994].
    • "Immortal, Invisible God Only Wise" [ST. DENIO] is arranged by Michael Burkhardt for organ in "Praise and Thanksgiving set 3," published by Morningstar MSM-10-753 [1990] (E-M); Raymond H. Haan for organ in "Welsh Hymn Tune Preludes," published by SMP KK426 [1989] (E-M); Wilbur Held for organ in "Those Wonderful Welsh set 2," published by Morningstar MSM-10-842 [1992] (E-M); and Douglas E. Wagner for 3 octave handbell choir as "Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise," published by Agape 1238 [1986] (E).
    • "I Know That My Redeemer Lives" [DUKE STREET] is arranged by Michael Burkhardt for organ in "Five Easter Season Hymn Improvisations," published by Morningstar MSM-10-403 [1990] (E-M), and in "Six General Hymn Improvisations, set 1," also published by Morningstar MSM-10-846 [1992] (M); Anne Marie David for piano in "Here I Am, Lord," published by Augsburg ISBN 0-8006-7566-5 [2002] (E-M); and Arnold Sherman for 2-3 octave handbell choir as "Jesus Shall Reign," published by Agape 1708 [1994] (E-M).

  2. An alternative harmonization for "Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise" can be found in Dale Wood's organ collection "New Settings of Twenty Well-Known Hymn Tunes," published by Augsburg 11-9292 [1968].
  3. The offertory music suggestions can be found in the following sources:
    • "The Lord, My Shepherd, Rules My Life" [CRIMOND] is arranged by Wilbur Held for organ in "The Lord Is My Shepherd," published by Morningstar MSM-10-420 [1999] (E-M); and Jan Sanborn for piano in "Piano Music for the Care of the Soul," published by Ron Harris RHP0403 [1997] (M).
    • "How Can I Keep From Singing" [QUAKER HYMN] is arranged by Jane Mc Fadden for 3-5 octave hymnbell choir, published by Augsburg 11-10984 (1999) [level 3]; and Barbara Boertje for piano in "Piano Improvisations for the Church Year," published by Unity Press 70/1194U [1998] (E-M).
    The anthem suggestions are both written for SATB choir. "How Can I Keep From Singing" by Jeffrey Honoré is published by Choristers Guild CGA-567 [1991] (E-M). "Shepherd Me, O God," composed by Marty Haugen, is published by GIA G-2950 [1986] and includes a reprintable congregational refrain.
  4. An organ accompaniment for the closing hymn, "Shall We Gather at the River" [HANSON PLACE], has been composed by John Ferguson and published by Augsburg 11-10824 [1997] (D).
  5. The postlude suggestion on "Shall We Gather at the River" is arranged for organ by Dale Wood in "Wood Works," published by SMP KK357 [1986] (E-M). "I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry" [WATERLIFE] is arranged for piano by Mark Albrecht in "Timeless Hymns of Faith," published by Augsburg 11-10863 [1998] (E-M).

Liturgy Notes:

  1. Both the Call to Worship and the Prayer of Confession are taken from The Worship Sourcebook,recently published by Faith Alive Christian Resources, the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, and Baker Book House (available from Faith Alive Christian Resources, 1-800-333-8300.) Find out moreabout The Worship Sourcebook.
  2. The responsive Prayer of Confession has been chosen for this service because those who face the closing chapter of life are often burdened by regrets and need a clear opportunity to express them and hear and receive God's word of forgiveness and pardon.
  3. We have included a children's moment in this service and located it near the sermon so the matter of death can be addressed to children. It must, of course, be done on their level, but children have heard of the death of grandparents (or other family members) and need an explanation of what it involves. A variety of illustrations (e.g., caterpillar, cocoon, butterfly ) will aid their understanding.
  4. Three senior members of the congregation agreed to give their testimony during this service, reflecting on their age, experiences, and faith. We had private conversations with each in the preceding weeks to explain our intent and give them assistance with forming their testimony. All three were in fragile health, had experienced severely threatening diseases, and were respected for their faith commitments.
  5. The Intercessory Prayer was divided into three subjects listed in the worship sheet. Three lay members of the congregation led in prayer, each taking one of the subjects.
  6. The Litany of Hope was intended to be the climax of the worship service and draw all the service ideas together in a verbal corporate profession of our hope.