The Covenant Hymnal, a worshipbook

by Glen Wiberg and Jane Wiberg

Last summer, Pastor Mark Pattie of Salem Covenant Church of New Brighton, Minnesota, preached a remarkable sermon using the hymnal as a “worship book” – just as it was meant to be used. We on the hymnal committee had named it precisely that: “The Covenant Hymnal; Worshipbook” and hoped it would be used not only as a musical voice but as a praying voice. As a member of the hymnal committee, Mark’s sermon gave me great hope.

We gathered that morning with broken hearts. Facing the challenges of racism many came to church that morning confused and saddened by horrific violence that had shaken our country. And not only our country — Pastor John Njaramba Kiruga, the President of the Covenant Church of Kenya, was killed that week after leading a peacemaking training session.

Mark prayed, “We acknowledge before you that this world is not at all well, not close, not nearly what you dreamed for your people…loving our neighbor, loving you. Help us this morning as we mourn. Help us in the midst of our confusion to acknowledge our sin, our part in the violence and the tensions of our world and guide us O God, on the pathway of peace. In Jesus name. Amen.”

That morning God answered Mark’s prayer. He knew that healing begins when his people are rooted and grounded in the Scriptures and in love.

Mark had the congregation open the hymnals to the Scriptures included in the book. At first there were verses of lament for our sins and prayers of repentance, then prayers of forgiveness. Here are a few of the morning readings:

From No. 906:

“Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we might delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.”

From No. 911, verse 6:

“Why, Lord, must any child of yours be hurt, filled with pain and sorrow undeserved while we stand by so helplessly?
Remember how you rescued your people from bondage and healed their wounds.
Hear this lament. Repair the brokenness we share and speak your mighty word to give us hope.”

From No. 928:

“Oh God, Sovereign of the universe,
without you nothing is true, nothing is just.
In your Word you reveal the way of love.
By your Spirit you make it possible.
From greed and selfishness,
from a society in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer,
compassionate God, deliver us.
From racial prejudice and religious intolerance, from a
society which makes the weakest and most recent members into scapegoats,
compassionate God, deliver us.
From indifference to the needs of other countries,
from the delusion that you love any other countries less than you love us,
compassionate God deliver us.
From self indulgence and indifference,
from a society in which fidelity and responsibility have little place,
compassionate God deliver us.
Author of life,
give us hearts set on the coming of your reign;
give us wise, just and humble leaders;
give all who live in the land a will to live in peace,
through Jesus Christ,
the One who is above all powers and dominions. Amen.”

There were many more readings that morning that opened our hearts and drew us together as one. We felt we had been washed and empowered by the scriptures. In Mark’s use of the beatitudes, I Corinthians 13 and the Lord’s Prayer we felt God’s peace envelope the congregation. He closed with the hymn No. 408:

“Guide me, O thou Great Jehovah, / pilgrim through this barren land; / I am weak, but thou art mighty / hold me with thy powerful hand / Bread of Heaven, Bread of Heaven, / feed me till I want no more / feed me till I want no more.”

Then Mark invited us to turn to each other and offer the peace of Christ and that the hope that burned within us would help us to take the love of God out into the world.

We sat quietly after the benediction. We didn’t want to leave. We felt the tremendous sense of presence and a new deep love for those around us. It was a morning we will long remember.