Songs for Lent, Good Friday, and Easter
The seasons of Lent and Easter bring countless images of our Lord’s suffering, passion, and resurrection. What better way to capture the significance of this image-rich season than through these songs with their rich texts and music?
There in God’s Garden
Many Lenten songs feature texts and tunes that are introspective and focus on Christ’s suffering in light of our own suffering and sin. That is, of course, a large part of the Lenten worship journey. “There in God’s Garden,” however, allows us to take a break from such introspection. Its triumphant melody and text give us a delightful preview of the coming Easter hope.
The song poetically refreshes our wearied Lenten selves by giving us an image of Christ as a life-giving tree, as the apostle John describes in the book of Revelation. Christ, the Tree of Life, is a tree that suffers but is also one that heals; displays knowledge, compassion, and wisdom; welcomes a wearied spirit; and offers mercy to peoples and nations. This refreshing, life-giving imagery points us to Easter hope amid Lenten sorrow. As the apostle John does in his gospel, it portrays Christ as victorious and full of love despite his suffering. Erik Routley set the translated text of the poem, originally written by a seventeenth-century Hungarian poet, in its current form in 1976. In 1995 K. Lee Scott composed the tune SHADES MOUNTAIN for the Routley text.
Fitting for any time during the Lenten season, the text also allows the song to be sung during a service of confession and assurance or perhaps following communion. In addition, the poetic nature and triumphant tune make it appropriate to use during profession of faith, baptism, or remembrance of baptism. One option is for the person professing or being baptized to read a stanza or two of the text while the music is played underneath. Or, if they are willing, have those professing or a small group sing their favorite stanza as a small choir or solo.
Here are a few additional suggestions for using “There in God’s Garden”:
- Have a choir introduce the first few stanzas of the song, with the congregation joining in no later than stanza 5, which is a proclamation all should sing.
- Invite children to sing this song or have the text read in their Sunday school classes; encourage them to draw pictures based on the images they sing about or read in this text. These images either could be projected during a worship service, used as bulletin covers, or held by children as they walk the aisles with their own drawings while the congregation is singing the song.
- Have a soloist sing stanza 4 as “the Voice” that welcomes the weary.
- Use full accompaniment and instrumentation with a trumpet on the final stanza, or create a descant by using the tenor line.
- Try not to rush this hymn; instead make sure to savor the rich text and strong tune.
When the Son of God Was Dying
How many times have you read a piece of Scripture and come to realize that you had never before noticed a certain detail in that text? The same thing might happen when you sing “When the Son of God Was Dying.” Unlike many Good Friday texts on the general theme of Christ’s sacrifice and suffering, the words of this song paint a detailed picture of the events surrounding Christ’s passion. Few hymns bring us such details of the passion story as this does: soldiers playing dice and mimicking funeral songs, the hanging of Judas, the crowd’s betrayal through Barabbas. Such details are central to this song’s strong text and its exceptionally supportive tune.
While the first three stanzas draw us into the details of the story of Christ’s passion, the fourth leads us into a prayer, leaving us longing for Easter and for Christ’s return to make all things right again. This final stanza articulates the tension Christians live with: knowing that Christ will return again, but still living in a sinful world that desperately needs his redemption and his resurrecting freedom.
This tension in the text also means it can be used in more contexts than Good Friday. It could be placed in a service of confession and lament as a reminder that Christ suffered as we do; it could also be sung as a response to confession of sin within a service.
The tune paired with this text allows many different options for leading in a congregational setting:
- a single acoustic guitar picking broken chords
- a keyboard or piano quietly playing chords
- a female soloist representing Mary singing stanza 3.
Another possibility for leadership would be to have a small choir lead stanzas 1-3 while a small drama group acts out some of the scenes represented by the text; have the congregation join in on the last stanza to sing the prayer. Or try a tableau-style drama: with the congregation closing their eyes in reflection, actors strike a pose to represent the action of the first stanza; the accompanist then plays an introduction to signal that the congregation should open its eyes. They sing a stanza, then close their eyes again as a new tableau is formed to represent the next stanza.
Stanzas of the hymn could also be sung between portions of gospel readings that directly correspond to them. Or have a leader read portions of Psalm 22 with the music playing quietly underneath, alternating the psalm readings with the singing of the stanzas.
This short Easter refrain is wonderful not only because it is a gift from our Honduran brothers and sisters, but also because children and adults alike can pick up this song easily (and will be humming or singing it throughout the day even after the service is done!).
Have the children introduce this song while the rest of the congregation joins in on subsequent stanzas. Or invite children to come down the aisles on Palm Sunday, swapping out Alleluia with “Shout Hosanna” and singing the last line “Christ the King will save us all!”
This versatile song may be sung at any time of year. As written, it would be ideal for Easter Sunday or for singing as communion is served. But with the last line changed, it could be used for virtually any worship season or liturgy:
- Ascension: “Christ the King [Lord] still reigns today!”
- Pentecost: “the Holy Spirit lives in me”
- Thanksgiving: “Thanking God for all his gifts [love] [grace]”
- Christmas: “Christ the Savior born today” or “The babe is born to save”
Such an adaptable song could also be a wonderful sending piece. Because it is so easy to memorize, the congregation could leave while singing and the last phrase could be sung as “God has called us out to serve” or “Go to love and serve the Lord.”
Certainly the possibilities for this short refrain are many, including different musical accompaniment. It definitely needs to have a moving, swaying beat, but should not be rushed. It could be sung a cappella with just drums or a tambourine or with a simple guitar or keyboard leading. Let your imagination and the catchiness of the tune open up your mind to the countless variations!
See, What a Morning (Resurrection Hymn)
This triumphant Easter hymn, the newest of our Noteworthy songs, intertwines the telling of the resurrection story with our own stories of faith. The beautiful text draws us to the scenes of that resurrection morning and invites us to make those stories our story.
Each stanza begins by giving us vivid images of Christ’s resurrection and ascension: the angel’s morning announcement, the folded grave clothes, Mary’s tears and her encounter with the risen Christ, and, in the third stanza, images of Christ’s reign as ascended Lord. The second half of each stanza brings us into the picture: Christ’s love and sacrifice was our salvation; the voice that spoke to Mary continues to speak today, “speaking life, stirring hope, bringing peace to us”; as Christ was raised and lives ascended, so we will live ascended with him. This last stanza doxologically points us toward Ascension hope. Stuart Townend, one of the composers, writes, “The third stanza is a response of praise as we realize the amazing consequence of Christ’s resurrection for our lives, drawing us into relationship with the triune God” (www.gettymusic.com/hymns
Because of the diversity and richness of the text, this song’s use is certainly not limited to Easter vigils or Easter morning. Townend states that he “really wanted to convey the immediacy of the Easter morning experience, and how that morning changed history forever.” With that in mind, this hymn can be sung at different times in worship. The celebration of that resurrection morning can be sung in the weeks following Easter, especially as the third stanza leads us into Ascension and Pentecost. In addition, you could use this as an opening song of praise in any service or as a response to an assurance of pardon. The text is also testimonial, which means it could be sung during a service where there is a profession of faith or baptism, or even before or after a personal testimony. Finally, if the situation allows or is pastorally appropriate, there may even be room for this song at the conclusion of a memorial service or funeral.
The triumphant nature of the music and text make this song a great candidate for a plethora of instruments. If your number of instruments is limited, it could be played by just a trumpet and keyboard or by guitars with drums. However, if you have the capacity, this is the kind of song for which you can pull out all the stops. The tempo should not be too slow; but it should never be sung so fast that the richness of the text is minimized.
You may want to begin the second stanza quietly with only drums or one small instrument to suggest the image of Mary’s sorrow, with a slow crescendo until all instruments join in at the center of the stanza, where we sing the realization “It’s the Master, the Lord raised to life again!” Another possibility for the second stanza would be to have a female soloist sing the first half of the stanza, portraying the lone voice of Mary.
The third stanza could be sung on its own apart from the other stanzas as a doxology, or the second half of the last stanza could simply be repeated a cappella.
One final suggestion: have a drama or dance group act out the images painted by the text, as was suggested for the song “When the Son of God Was Dying.”