Lenten music?

Music of the Lenten season and Easter is among the richest we have in the church year. I am sure that this is not a revelation to fellow readers, but it could be worthwhile to reflect for a moment or two on the significance of this repertoire. There is so much music in this realm, and we love it—but do we ever really stop to ponder it, in particular, to contemplate its words?

Hymns can be exceptional devotional literature. If you are like me, you probably have dozens of hymnals in your collection. But how often do we simply read in our hymnals or meditate on these great Christian texts? Frequently, their authors have been ministers who penned hymns to summarize the salient points of their sermons for the congregation. In this way the truths taught could “live on” in the minds of the people who would recall the poetry and tune more easily than they might the sermon itself. But there have also been tremendous lay-writers, both men and women used of God to praise Him, to teach His Word, and to build up His Church.

Whether preacher or poet, hymn writers find inspiration in the same places that all Christian poets do—in Scripture, in nature, in a life experience that prompts reflection upon spiritual neediness, or in an overpowering awareness of God’s glory. These themes appear readily in hymnody of this season, where we also find a greater focus on:

• The suffering of Jesus:
• His sacrificial act in dying for us:
• His defeat of Death for our sakes:

Tell me, ye who hear Him groaning,
Was there ever grief like His?
Friends thro’ fear His cause disowning,
Foes insulting His distress;
Many hands were raised to wound Him,
None would interpose to save;
But the deepest stroke that pierced Him
Was the stroke that Justice gave.
“Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted” – Thomas Kelly, 1804

Well might the sun in darkness hide,
And shut his glories in,
When Christ, the mighty Maker, died
For man the creature’s sin.
“Alas and Did My Savior Bleed?”, Isaac Watts, 1707

Jesus lives, and so shall I.
Death! Thy sting is gone forever!
He who deigned for me to die,
Lives, the bands of death to sever.
He shall raise me from the dust:
Jesus is my hope and trust.
“Jesus Lives, and So Shall I”, Christian Gellert, 1757

The glories of His resurrection:

Tis the spring of souls today;
Christ hath burst His prison,
And from Three days’ sleep in death,
As a sun hath risen;
All the winter of our sins,
Long and dark, is flying
From His light, to Whom we give
Laud and praise undying.
“Come, Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain”, John of Damascus, 8th cent.

As church musicians, Lent, Holy Week, and Easter typically mean that we have a lot more to do. In the extra work and wonderful music that this season brings, let us remember to stop now and then to consider the importance of the Cross and the empty
tomb—to remember for Whom we play and sing, and why He deserves our very best.