Surrounded by a Great Cloud of Witnesses
The fourth and last Sunday service plan in a series on Hebrews, focusing on the truth that in our efforts to follow Jesus Christ as the great High Priest we are part of the body of Christ throughout all time and space.
Also in this Series
Christ as the Mediator of God's Grace: A Series on Hebrews
This series of worship services explores the idea of Jesus Christ as the Great High Priest who mediates the New Covenant.
Theme of the Service
This is the fourth and final service in the series based on the Epistle to the Hebrews. The overall theme is "Christ as the Mediator of God's Grace." You can see the theme in each of the three services listed above. The focus of this last service is that in our efforts to follow Jesus Christ as the great High Priest we are part of the body of Christ throughout all time and space. We are, therefore, surrounded by all other Christians, some on earth and some having gone on to glory. Their unity with us gives us encouragement and inspiration in our journey.
This service is a fitting time to observe both the Protestant Reformation and All Saints' Day in a remembrance of those heroes of faith who have gone before us.
Hebrews 11:1-12:3 is the most fitting passage for this service. The assorted exhortations of chapter 13 are also appropriate.
As mentioned in previous weeks, retaining certain parts of the liturgy as the same each week is very helpful in a series of services. In this series the greeting, the service of confession, and the benediction/blessing are the same in each service.
You will find additional resources in SNC 194 and TWS (The Worship Sourcebook), pages 747-761.
* * * *
Call to Worship
God's Greeting from Revelation 1:4-5
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come,
and from the seven spirits who are before his throne,
and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead,
and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
We Greet Each Other
Opening Sentences from Hebrews 12:1
Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,
let us lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely,
and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.
Hymn: "Oh, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing" PH 466, PsH 501, RL 362/363, RN 32, SFL 19, TH 164, TWC 130, UMH 57
The Call to Confession: Hebrews 10:19-22
"Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water."
The Prayer of Confession
The Assurance of God's Pardon: Romans 5:1-2
"Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God."
Song: "And Can It Be" PsH 267, RL 451, RN 193, TH 455, TWC 473, UMH 363
God's Call to Grateful Living: Hebrews 10:23-25
"Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching."
Remembering with Gratitude
(This worshipful event can be structured in several different ways. Members of the
congregationmay be invited to give brief expressions or testimonies about people from
the congregation, community, or their family who have died during the past year. Several
can take note of the "heroes of faith" who have shaped our Reformation Heritage, or
worship leaders can read the names of those within our acquaintance who have died during
the past year. In order to do this thoughtfully it should be planned ahead of time and
people should be informed of the opportunity and invited to plan their part in it.)
Prayer of Thanksgiving
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.
God of the ages, we praise you for all your servants,
who have done justice, loved mercy, and walked humbly with their God.
For apostles and martyrs and saints of every time and place,
who in life and death have witnessed to your truth,
we praise you, O God.
For all your servants who have faithfully served you,
witnessed bravely and died in faith,
who are still shining lights in the world,
we praise you, O God.
For those we have known and loved,
for teachers and students, colleagues and friends,
for parents and grandparents, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters,
for all who by their faithful obedience and steadfast hope
have shown the same mind that was in Christ Jesus,
we praise you, O God.
Keep us grateful for their witness, and, like them, eager to follow in the way of Christ.
Then at last, bring us together to share in the inheritance of the saints in light;
through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.
Hymn: "For All the Saints" PH 526, PsH 505, RL 397, SFL 195, TH 358, TWC 751, UMH 711
The Reading of Scripture: Hebrews 11:32-12:3
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
The Prayers of the People
The Offering of Music
The Offering of our Gifts for..
Our Profession of the Church's Faith
(Here the worshipers give expression to the faith of the historic Christian Church and in doing so express their solidarity with the church of all ages. One of the ecumenical creeds may be used, or a profession from one of the other confessions of the church. You will find suggested resources in The Worship Sourcebook,pages 754-756.)
Song: "For All the Saints Who Showed Your Love" SNC 195
Parting Words: Hebrews 12:1-3
The Blessing: Hebrews 13:20-21
"Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. "
* You are invited to stand
This service and sermon can concentrate on the observance of Reformation Sunday, All Saints' Day, or can merge both of them. Most Protestants are much more familiar with Reformation Sunday than All Saints' Day. Reformation Sunday is usually observed on the last Sunday of October. All Saints' Day is normally observed on November 1 or the first Sunday in November. All Saints' Day is intended to remember Christian people of all times and places who have shaped us and the community of faith. Though this observance is spreading among Protestants in recent years, it probably will be wise and helpful to carefully distinguish it from the veneration of the saints in Roman Catholicism and attempt to establish a clearly protestant identity for it.
The sermon for this service, therefore, will want to establish that a "saint" according to Scripture is a child of God who is redeemed by grace and living by faith. All the "heroes of faith" in Hebrews 11 are outstanding examples of saints. Each of us should recall others throughout history, ancient and recent, who have been similar "heroes." For all of these we give thanks, and we take courage for our own walk.
The opening of chapter 12 carries on the thought of chapter 11. The Christian life is a long-distance race that we run and therefore the risk of tiring and dropping out is real. (History has many examples of that too.) The heroes of chapter 11 are not merely spectators but are "witnesses" which means they are those who have given testimony of their faith, often at great personal price. They are inspiring examples to us, and they give us great encouragement.
Yet, notice this shift. Our eyes are not to be fixed on the heroes as an end in itself, but to be fixed on Jesus! The mark of all saints who have gone before and remained faithful is that their eyes were fixed on Jesus.
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)
If you prefer a theme song or hymn that can be a constant for the entire series, we suggest two possibilities:
"Since Our Great High Priest, Christ Jesus" PsH 230
"Before the Throne of God" (available on CCLI website, with license)
Additional songs and hymns that fit well with this service:
"By the Sea of Crystal" PsH 620, TH 549
"Jesus Shall Reign" PH 423, PsH 412, RN 296, RL 233, TH 441, TWC 745, UMH 157
"Love Divine, All Loves Excelling" PH 376, PsH 568, RN 196, RL 464, TH 529, TWC 558, UMH 384
"What Wondrous Love" PH 85, PsH 379, RN 277, SFL 169, TH 261, TWC 212, UMH 292