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Held By God's Big Arms: A Service of Remembrance - Deuteronomy 33

A worship service plan for transitioning to a new year, focusing on the passage of time, taking note of the fact that all time is a gift from our eternal God, that the unwrapping of our "times" includes both joys and sorrows, and that the faithfulness of God provides our strength and hope.

Worship Service

Theme of the Service

As the last worship service of the year, our worship should focus on the passage of time, taking note of the fact that all time is a gift from our eternal God, that the unwrapping of our "times" includes both joys and sorrows, and that the faithfulness of God provides our strength and hope. End-of-the-year worship should review the contents of the year in the life of a congregation to remember and give thanks together and to recommit ourselves to the journey of faith.


Prelude: "Adagio in G Minor", Albinoni, arranged by Wolff
"If You But Trust in God to Guide You", Powell ( PsH 446) OR:
"If You But Trust in God to Guide You", Boertje, Nordquist
(See Music Notes at the end of this service for information on where this music and other music in this service may be found.)

*Song of Approach: "O Lord, My God, Most Earnestly" PsH 63

*Our Declaration of Trust and God's Greeting :

People of God, on this last [Lord's] day of the year, where is your trust placed?
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.

Song of Faith: "The Lord, My Shepherd, Rules My Life" PH 170, PsH 23, RL 89/90, SFL 201, TH 85/86/87, TWC 330/615

Offertory: "The Lord, My Shepherd, Rules My Life", Held


The Reading of Scripture: Deuteronomy 33:24-29
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God!

Sermon: Held by God's Big Arms
Text - Deuteronomy 33:27

Song of Testimony: "How Great Is the Love of the Father" PsH 231, SFL 59


Anthem: "You Are All We Have", O'Brien

Remembering the Major Events of our Journey
(See the Liturgy Notes for an explanation of this part of the service.)

Lighting the Candles of Remembrance

Response: "You Are All We Have", O'Brien

The Pastoral Prayer

*Song of Testimony: "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" PH 276, PsH 556, RL 155, RN 249, TH 32, TWC 60, WOV 771


The Invitation to the Table

The Words of Institution - 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

The Prayer of Approach

Our Participation in the Bread
While the bread is distributed the congregation sings:
"Be Still and Know" RN 10, SFL 225, TWC 516
"Trust in the Lord" SFL 212 (other tunes: SNC 190, TWC 527)
"I Will Sing of the Mercies of the Lord" PsH 169, RN 111, TWC 30

Our Participation in the Cup
While the cup is distributed the congregation sings:
"Father, Long before Creation" (tune Coronae: PsH 464) (tune Miller Chapel: RL 353)
"Everywhere I Go" SFL 211

The Prayer of Thanksgiving


*Song of Blessing: "May the Lord Bless You" SFL 80

*The Benediction with Congregational "Amen"
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.

*Song of Parting: "Go, My Children, with My Blessing" SNC 284, WOV 721

Postlude: "Go, My Children, with My Blessing", Stoldt

* - you are invited to stand

Sermon Notes:

The Scripture passage and text are taken from the final speech of Moses. Chapters 32 and 33 are his closing words of testimony and blessing for each of the tribes of Israel . Chapter 34 records his death.

As you craft this sermon several factors must be kept clearly in mind. These are the people who were delivered from Egypt . They have just completed 40 years in the wilderness, and now a new generation is preparing to enter the Promised Land (which they can see across the Jordan River ). In the section selected for reading here, Moses addresses the tribe of Asher, a tribe that was always in the background in Hebrew history.

The sermon should focus on the figure of speech that Moses selects - an anthropomorphism . Begin with the picture of arms.. What are they used for? Where else do the Scriptures speak of God's arms and for what reason? When that has been clarified add insight from two other elements in this statement. Why is it significant that these are "everlasting" arms? And why are they "underneath"? Then be sure to move to the story of the Gospel in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the evidence of God's embrace of his people.

Once these concepts are explained, the best way to communicate the message here is to present a verbal scrapbook of many different scenes and pictures of events in which it has been obvious that God's big arms have been holding his people. Begin with Old Testament stories; add New Testament stories; and then include many of the events that have occurred in the past year, both in the community and in the life of the congregation.

The aim of this message is not only to teach of God's care, but to instill confidence, trust and a sense of security.

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 (childrens' 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)
WOV With One Voice (Augsburg Fortress)

Music Level Key: E = Easy, M = Medium, D = Difficult

  1. The two pieces listed first are organ pieces. The Albinoni Adagio is published by CPH (97-5779 [1983]) (E-M). The hymn transcription on Neumark/Wer nur den lieben Gott is published by Morningstar MSM-10-873 [1994] (M). The alternate suggestions are piano transcriptions of theNeumark melody. Barbara Boertje's collection, Piano Improvisations for the Church Year (Unity 70/1194U [1998]) (E) and John Nordquist's arrangement in Four Hymns for the Concert Pianist (Hope 301 [1983]) (M-D) work well together or individually.
  2. The music of the offertory is taken from The Lord Is My Shepherd, a collection of organ arrangements on Psalm 23 melodies by Wilbur Held (Morningstar MSM-10-420 [1999]) (E) ( Crimond).
  3. The hymn "How Great Is the Love of the Father" (Anno Domini) is based on 1I John 3:1-3.
  4. The anthem "You Are All We Have", by Francis Patrick O'Brien, is based on Psalm 16 and was composed to include congregational participation in a repeated refrain (GIA G-3663 [1991]) (E). In this particular service we recommend having a choir or small ensemble sing the anthem as printed at this point in the service. During the retracing of the year in the liturgy the congregation sings the response at the appropriate time [see liturgy notes].
  5. When the congregation sings during the distribution of the elements, we recommend the songs be formatted into a worship booklet to eliminate the inconvenience of handling a hymnal at the time of either passing the elements or walking to receive them. Please remember to pay attention to copyright issues when copying these songs.
  6. The Song of Blessing "May the Lord Bless You" can be sung with congregational members facing each other from across aisles. This song is the refrain from an SATB anthem of the same title by Judy Hunnicutt (Lorenz S349 [1985]) (E).
  7. Alternative free accompaniments for the Song of Parting can be found in Three Evening Hymns Set 2by Robert Hobby (Morningstar MSM-10-514 [1998]).
  8. The postlude music is from the collection Five Hymn Settings by Frank Stoldt, published by Morningstar (MSM-10-931 [1988]) (E-M).
  9. After a rich, though demanding, season for your choirs, consider using a small ensemble to provide music for this service. An ensemble consisting of couples from your congregation is an option you may wish to consider. Both anthems are easily accessible to the average choir member. Rehearsal time can be kept to an hour or less. Both could also be adapted for unison singing, as needed.

Liturgy Notes:

1. We have referred to the last worship service of the year as "A Service of Remembrance." Some congregations may hold this last service of the year on the final Sunday evening; others will schedule it on Old Year's Night. It is important for worshipers to end the year by retracing the journey of the year, and marking out the significant times the Lord has included in that journey. The story of our lives and our congregation should be reviewed before we move on. The spirit of the service, therefore, is reflective and focuses on God's faithful leading.

The records and notations of the events of the year are studied and a script is written that is a digest of major events during the year in the life of the congregation-baptisms, professions, marriages, deaths, new members and other special events. Lay readers lead this part of the service, reading one month's account at a time. As each month's events are reviewed, a candle is lit in remembrance of those events. We do not extinguish a candle to mark that the time is gone, but rather light a candle to signify its lasting value in our lives. After each three months are read and three candles are lit, the congregation responds in song with the refrain of "You Are All We Have". When this part of the service includes the pastoral prayer in a spirit of trust and thanksgiving, the congregation is ready to sing "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" with great fervor.

We have also purchased roses and displayed them in the front of the sanctuary for this service: One white rose for each member of the congregation who died during the past year, one red rose for each baptism, and one yellow rose for each profession of faith. The names are printed on the worship sheet and they or family members are invited to take "their" rose home at the close of the service.

A variety of additional suggestions could be made. Some churches use a video to record the events of the year, and present a visual review of major events. Others prefer to have an "open microphone" during worship to express their thanks and intercessions in prayer.

2. We often include the celebration of the Lord's Supper in the final worship service of the year. If the Lord's Supper has been celebrated on Christmas Eve, then a decision needs to be made about whether the two are both necessary. We've included it in the service above for your consideration as an optional element. If the Lord's Supper is not included in this service, you would probably want to include a Scriptural Exhortation before going to the closing section and "May the Lord Bless You".


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