Day is dying in the west
Years ago when we had just entered SEBTS I volunteered to serve as a summer supply preacher for any of the local congregations along the North Carolina-Virginia border. My first opportunity in this role was a memorable experience, one that was formative in shaping our ministry future.
After a few formalities the small congregation just across the line in Virginia quieted for worship. Since there was no nursery or other children present, one of the fine ladies took Elizabeth and Brian to a back room for their children's church time. The choir of nine people entered the choir loft and sat while one of the deacons made a few announcements and prayed. Then the choir stood for the call to worship. They sang, "Day Is Dying in the West" from the Baptist Hymnal (1956). The words to that hymn are---
Day is dying in the west, Heav’n is touching earth with rest, Wait and worship while the night Sets her evening lamps alight Through all the sky.
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts! Heav’n and earth are full of Thee! Heav’n and earth are praising Thee, O Lord, most high!
Lord of life, beneath the dome Of the universe, Thy home, Gather us, who seek Thy face, To the fold of Thy embrace, For Thou art nigh.
While the deepening shadows fall, Heart of love, enfolding all, Through the glory and the grace Of the stars that veil Thy face, Our hearts ascend.
It truly is a lovely old hymn, one that we sang on Sunday nights occasionally in my childhood years at West Greenville Baptist Church and later at Edwards Road Baptist Church. The small choir did an excellent job in providing four part harmony in their rendition. We really appreciated their preparation and effort.
My sermon title that morning was The Power of the Resurrection. I mean, it was the Lord's Day, the glorious day we commemorate and acknowledge the miracle of the empty tomb. It was only my third or fourth sermon as a "preacher", and even though I had not taken a single seminary class at that point, I knew the resurrection would be an appropriate theme any Lord's Day. OK, I know what happens when we have unreasonable expectations. But, I expected something a little more suitable to the resurrection of Jesus as our call to worship.
But, as the call the worship eased us into worship, I mouthed those words, "While the deepening shadows fall..." as I contemplated how I would transition to the glorious message of the resurrected Christ. It almost seemed that we would need to resurrect the congregation that morning before we could speak of the stone being rolled away.
Since that day, I've insisted that every service begin with something more appropriate to the theme or message title of the day rather than something more attuned to endings. That service was at the finish line an hour before the invitation was given.
Day is dying in the west, indeed.