Lent is a time of spiritual preparation, six weeks long, leading us on an intentional journey into the Easter rising of new life. Our challenge in the next few weeks is not just to experience the salvation journey of Christ, but to respond to it and live it.
We live Lent in much the same way that we are called to live all the events of Christ's life. We live Christmas when we are involved with newness, beginnings, encouraging potential, and making a commitment for celebrating life. We live service and ministry when we are involved with reaching out, welcoming, affirming diversity, healing brokenness, and making a commitment for loving tenderly and doing justice. We live Palm Sunday when we risk involvement, enter into the center of things, take a stand, and make a commitment for acting our consciences and doing what is right in behalf of others. We live Maundy Thursday when we are involved with caring, equality, sharing, and making a commitment for love, friendship, and the new life of Easter. We live Good Friday when we are involved with struggle, wrestling with the questions of life, giving of our self on behalf of others, and making a commitment of the dying of the old. We live Easter when we are involved with deliverance, liberation, hope, celebration, and making a commitment for the rising of new life.
From Christmas, into ministry, into Palm Sunday, into Maundy Thursday, through Good Friday, into Easter is a continuous salvation journey. Living a Christ-style life-journey is the focus and challenge of this Lenten planner.
Gordon Dragt is pastor of the Middle Collegiate Church, New York, New York.
First Sunday in Lent
A Journey into the Wilderness
We begin our Lenten journey with Jesus' wilderness experiences of solitude, vulnerability, and questioning. The Spirit Jesus received in his baptism now leads him into the wilderness.
The story reminds us of Moses and the exodus. The temptations are about power and the defeat of the ways of Satan. They are about the eternal struggles of the heart; about equality and justice; about making life better for all people by offering not just bread alone, but the bread of life; about letting the love of God make us all partners together, rather than competitors.
We have our wilderness experiences too. And that is how we begin Lent—with restlessness deep inside us, focusing upon how we view life and the spirituality of life, living the questions of life for now and hopefully later arriving at some answers.
During Lent you may want to consider supplementing the regular hymnals with hymns from a number of good inclusive-language resources, such as Everflowing Streams, Ruth Duck and Michael Bausch, Pilgrim Press, 132 W. 31st St., New York, NY 10001; Because We Are One People, Ecumenical Women's Center, 1653 W. School St., Chicago, IL 60657; and Joy in Singing, Jane Parker Huber, The Office of Women and the Joint Office of Worship, The Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.
The hymns suggested on these pages, however, are taken from four standard hymnals: The Hymnbook [HB], Psalter Hymnal [PH], Rejoice in the Lord [RL], and the Trinity Hymnal [TH].
"O Worship the King" (HB 26, PH 428, RL 2, TH 13)
"Amazing Grace" (HB 275, PH 462, RL 456, TH 402)
"Be Thou My Vision" (HB 303, RL 67)
"Cantique de Jean Racine," Gabriel Faure
"Like As the Hart," Herbert Howells
"Love Bade Me Welcome," Ralph Vaughan Williams
"Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child," Trad. (Gospel Choir)
"Lord, Help Me to Hold Out," James Cleveland (Gospel Choir)
Many congregations begin Lent with communion.
Choreograph around the themes of Lent and communion, using the hymn "Let Us Break Bread Together On Our Knees" (HB 447, PH 304, RL 545), sung by a soloist or the choir.
Invite local artists and sculptors to exhibit pieces that focus on the general themes of Lent and Easter. Encourage participation by drawing up a set of guidelines, judging the show, and offering a meaningful award. Run the show during the entire season of Lent, making sure it is well publicized in the community. The purpose is to reach out and include a broader group of people into the Lenten journey.
Second Sunday in Lent
A Journey of Faith
In Genesis we are told that Sarah and Abraham, feeling a deeper spiritual purpose and commitment, left behind their tried and proven life and moved toward the new and the unknown. Hebrews tells us that Sarah and Abraham are more than just historical persons. Since their famous trip, they have gone down in history as symbols of what it means to be religious people who live by faith, of a journeying life-style, of people responding to the call of God to leave behind the old and move toward a new existence of promise and hope (see Heb. 11:1-22).
The story challenges our age stereotypes: what we often associate with youth, Genesis associates with the elderly! It helps us understand that God calls people of all ages to move out in search of a new, more inclusive, just, and creative life together. When we combine the Genesis and Hebrew stories, we see that journeying is to be a way of life for us. By faith, without having all the answers, we move out of the wilderness into the journey toward a new Easter existence.
"For the Beauty of the Earth" (HB 2, PH 432, RL 5)
"Spirit of God Descend upon My Heart" (HB 236, RL 445)
"Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah"(HB 339, PH 543, RL 50, TH 501)
"Wondrous Love" (PH 379)
"We've Come this Far by Faith" (PH 567)
"Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" (PH 617)
"Psalm 23," Paul Creston
"Go Not Far from Me, O God,"
Third Sunday in Lent
A Journey Toward Hospitality and Inclusion
Today's lesson is about hospitality, reaching out, inviting, offering the good news to all. It is a story in which strangers become friends and foreigners become included. Although tired, Jesus still took time for conversation and relationships through his actions, he defied the religious, cultural, national, racial, and social barriers that so often divide and separate people. He met the needs of others despite the many differences between them.
Jesus talks about a different kind of thirst and water—an eternal life-giving water. The woman responds to Jesus' invitation. Jesus gives her the gift of the Spirit.
God's love is generous, gracious, and ecumenical; it accepts differences and affirms diversity. As a shepherd, empowered by The Shepherd, the Samaritan woman becomes an evangelist, feeding her flock by sharing the good news with her people and inviting them to experience the life-giving water Jesus the Christ offers. Through her ministry, many that day received Christ's life-giving water.
The Lenten journey broadens and expands our perspectives and our communities.
"Praise to the Lord, the Almighty" (HB 1, PH 253, RL 145, TH 50)
"All People That on Earth Do Dwell" (HB 24, PH 100, RL 120, TH 1)
"Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart" (HB 407, PH 561, TH 502)
"Sanctus," Giocchino Rossini
"How Firm a Foundation," Amer.Folk Hymn, arr. Warner
"Draw Us in the Spirif s Tether," Harold Friedell
"Certainly Lord," Trad. (Gospel Choir)
Fourth Sunday in Lent
Making the Journey as People of Light
This passage in Ephesians brings to mind the creation story. In the beginning, when God set in motion the creative process, the universe we know was chaos and darkness— just as we are in chaos and darkness before we see the Light.
The creative power of God moves within the people and will not rest until something comes forth that is new, fresh, and filled with hope. Then God says, "Let there be light in us, among us, and with us!" By faith light appears, and God is delighted with the appearance of light. The world has an ethical, moral foundation to it. Light exposes. Light brings love, warmth, and friendship. Light helps us on our way and illuminates the darkness. Light is understanding. It has to do with tolerating differences and diversity.
"Walk as children of light," rising from sleep at the dawn of a new day, a new time, refreshed by the Creator Christ who greets us with, "Let there be light in your persons today! Let there be creativity and new energy in your churches today! Let there be understanding, compassion, hope, and justice in your cities and nations today! Let there be peace and reconciliation in your world today!" Christ is delighted at the appearance of the people walking as "children of light." And we, too, are delighted and applaud whenever the light of hope appears. The Lenten journey challenges us to a new being.
"Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above" (HB 15, PH 465, RL 146)
"Great Is Thy Faithfulness" (PH 556, RL 155, TH 27)
"Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken" (HB 434, PH 506, RL 39, TH 269)
"Awake, All Who Sleep" (PH 537)
"Psalm 142," Ned Rorem
"In Thee, O Lord," Franz Joseph Haydn
"Send Out Thy Light," Gounod
Fifth Sunday in Lent
A Vision of Hope to Help Us on Our Journey
Dry bones is how we all must feel sometimes—tired, lifeless, so little spirit and energy; only routines, rituals, schedules, obligations; no dancing, no laughter left in us. Dry bones is also the way many of our institutions, corporations, and government agencies appear—unable to respond to the real needs of people; tired; no new ideas; no vision, imagination, and creativity; solving paper puzzles instead of people problems.
God asks us, "Can these dry bones live again?" And he promises us, "I am going to put my renewing, refreshing Spirit within you and you will come alive and be vital and dynamic again!" God says to us, "Can these dry bones (persons, churches, institutions, cities, nations) live again?" And we answer, "Yes, they can!" And we also answer, "Yes, we WILL prophesy!" This is the great affirmation of the salvation through Christ's life, death, and resurrection that we celebrate in Holy Week and seek now to live in our lives and society. The Lenten journey calls us to new responsibility.
"Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty" (HB 11, PH 249, RL 611, TH 87)
"O God of Mercy, God of Grace" (RL 108)
"O Mighty God" (RL 466)
"And Let All Thy People Say Hallelujah, Amen," G. F. Handel
Sixth Sunday in Lent: Palm Sunday
A Journey into the Center of Things
The people were under the rule of a foreign government that violated their civil rights and curbed their religious and social freedoms. So the people anxiously sought freedom from their oppressors.
The people gathered. Jesus rode into the center of the city. The crowd shouted and chanted as they anticipated and hoped: "God bless the coming reign of freedom and justice! We want a deliverer! We want a savior! Praise be to God—but on a donkey? What kind of model of leadership is that supposed to represent? Whoever heard of a savior of the people riding anywhere on a donkey?" It must have surprised some of the folks to be so enthusiastically cheering such a humble, nonviolent person who was so dramatically modeling a different way of life, a new vision of leadership and existence.
The story is about risking, taking a stand, going into the center of it all, acting on our conscience to do what is right, promoting unity and hope rather than pitting one people against another. In the midst of struggle and deep longings of the soul, Christ ignites the spark of a glorious anticipation, a vision of a fresh way, a glimpse of a new city, a new world. "Rejoice, rejoice...your deliverer is coming triumphant and victorious! Yes! But humble and, would you believe it, riding into the center of it all on a donkey!" The Lenten journey has its surprises too!
"Lift Up Your Heads, O Gates" (HB 152, PH 163, RL 185)
"Hosanna! Loud Hosanna!" (HB 185, PH 378, RL 282)
"Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life" (HB 507, PH 602, RL 482)
"God of Grace, God of Glory" (HB 358, RL 416)
"All Glory Laud and Honor" (HB 187, PH 375, 376, RL 279, TH 173)
"Lift Up Your Head, O Ye Gates,"
"Hosanna to the Son of David,"
"Psalm 24," Lili Boulanger "Ride on, King Jesus," Spiritual, arr.
"Sweepin' Through the City,"
Spiritual (Gospel Choir)
"If It Wasn't for the Lord," Spiritual
Choreograph the dance to a narration of the wonderfully visual and dynamic Palm Sunday story.
Large Puppet Theater
Write a dramatization of the Palm Sunday story to be read by a narrator. Create large puppets (6' to 10' tall, with foam, poles, and colorful cloth) representing Jesus, the disciples, the donkey, and the crowd. As the narrator reads, use the whole sanctuary as a stage for movement, color, and pageantry. Or use the puppets during the regular worship processional.
Commission a theater group to write and perform a play that communicates the general messages and themes of Holy Week or of just Easter itself. The production can take place outside on the church steps or inside the church facility. Make sure it is well publicized. The purpose is to reach out and include a broader group of people in the Holy Week journey.
Making a Commitment to Go the Full Distance
This passage is a reminder that all the Easter wishes and hopes we have for ourselves, our church, institutions, corporations, cities, nation, and world will not just happen automatically. Biblically speaking, there is no easy journey into Easter.
Before we can even think about Easter, we must first consider the Good Fridays of life, because that is the next stop on the journey. Maundy Thursday is a very important and critical time of decision and commitment to action. The decision is either for maintaining the status-quo or for going with Jesus on a journey into Easter, new life, new possibilities, a new existence for us and for all peoples, fully aware that the journey will lead us straight through the struggle, pain, and death of the old of Good Friday. All the roads leading into Easter experiences go through Good Friday experiences.
In the foot-washing ceremony Jesus demonstrates that he loves us completely and fully to the end. "I have set an example for you," says Jesus, "so that you will do for others what I have done for you." Acts of mutual love are the distinguishing mark of the Christian faith and life. Maundy Thursday gives us spiritual nourishment to make it through the next stage of the journey.
"What Wondrous Live Is This" (PH 379)
"All the Way My Savior Leads Me" (HB 365, RL 458, TH 505)
"Be Still, My Soul" (HB 374, RL 154,TH 579)
"Blest Be the Tie That Binds" (HB 473, PH 315, RL 408, TH 285)
"God of Love" (RL 42)
"Behold, My Savior Now Is Taken,"J.S. Bach
"There Is a Balm in Gilead," William Dawson
"Submission," H. Wolf
"Aus Liebe Will Mein Heiland Sterben," J.S. Bach
"Nobody Knows the Trouble I See," Spiritual (Gospel Choir)
Most congregations have communion on Maundy Thursday, and some incorporate Tenebrae into their worship. Others choose to include Tenebrae in their Good Friday worship.
Journeying Through Good Friday's Dying of the Old
Why were they so angry at Jesus? Why did they make fun of him the way they did? Maybe if s because Jesus chose an alternate way, something new and different. In some situations the new is regarded as an enemy, a threat, an intruder into the established way of thinking, believing, and doing things.
Jesus had grown impatient with the old rules for living—an eye for any eye, a tooth for a tooth, hate your enemies, curse those that curse you, be suspect of anyone who is different from you, human problems are best solved with military solutions, and help yourself first. Jesus had a vision of a new heaven and earth where people didn't have to be made immobile by old fears and prejudices. He chose to live among people as one who serves. "Surely he took on our infirmities and carried our sorrows—the punishment that brought us peace was upon him," and through this act we are forgiven, redeemed, delivered, accepted, lifted up from the pit to life eternal. Easter follows Good Friday! Good Friday precedes Easter! The rising of the new emerges out of the dying of the old. There is no other way into Easter.
We, too, are challenged to live the Good Fridays of life, to take a chance on letting some of our old ways, habits, attitudes, and prejudices die. We are challenged to bear the grief, carry the sorrows, and experience the pain of all our sisters and brothers in the world, so that through our Good Fridays others may experience Easters of hope, new life, justice, dignity, and deliverance.
"My Faith Looks Up to Thee" (HB 378, PH 262, RL 446, TH 454)
"My Shepherd Is the Living Lord" (RL 91)
"Come, Thou Fount" (HB 379, PH 486, RL 449, TH 400)
"Surely He Hath Borne Our Griefs and Carried Our Sorrows," Carl Graun
"All We Like Sheep," G.F. Handel
"When Jesus Wept," William Billings
"O Come and Mourn," Amer. Folk Tune, arr. Hal Hopson
"Were You There?" arr. H.T. Burleigh
"Jesus Died On Calvary's Mountain," arr. Alice Parker
"Precious Lord," Roland Carter
"Take My Mother Home," Spiritual (Gospel Choir)
"Tell 'em I'm Gone," arr. Alice Parker (Gospel Choir)
Here are three suggestions for centering the Good Friday worship around a choral and orchestral presentation: 1) Use "The Seven Words of Christ on the Cross" by Heinrich Schuetz. 2) Select spirituals which communicate the message and themes of Good Friday. Spirituals are especially appropriate because they allow us to hear the gospel through common songs to a common world and through the eyes, ears, and feelings of a suffering people. 3) Use the appropriate section of G.F. Handel's Messiah.
Journeying into Easter's Rising of the New
Chrisf s great salvation journey for humankind and the earth reaches a climax in the Easter event. In the midst of such celebration, joy, and hope, the main question for me on Easter morning is not so much "Was the resurrection real?" but "Is the resurrection real?" For me, the issue is not "Did Easter happen?" but "Do Easters happen?" The truth of Easter is always ready to be discovered, released, and lived in the present. To live Easter is what matters most!
Since one of Easter's surprises is that Jesus rose and incredibly chose to return to this world, to these cities, and to our persons, then one of the primary messages of Easter is that this world and what is happening here with us people, the earth, nations, and the environment are all our main concern now. Notice that Mary Magdalene becomes the very first apostle, the first witness of the resurrection, who goes forth and proclaims the good news to the others. And the journey with Christ continues: into Christmases, into ministry, into Palm Sundays, into Maundy Thursdays, through Good Fridays, into Easters—a continuous Christ-style life-journey we all are encouraged to travel with our own lives.
"Jesus Christ Is Risen Today" (HB 204, RL 312, TH 198)
"From All that Dwells Below the Skies" (HB 33, RL 126, TH 3)
"Crown Him with Many Crowns" (HB 213, PH 410, RL 600, TH 216)
"Alleluia! Christ Is Risen," William Mathias
"Easter," Ralph Vaughan Williams
"Let All the World Sing," Dominick Argento
"Salem," Early Amer., arr. Alice Parker
"Alleluia," Randall Thompson
"How I Got Over," arr. Dorothy Pearson (Gospel Choir)
"Goin' Forward," Spiritual (Gospel Choir)
"In Dat Great Gittin Up Mornin," Spiritual (Gospel Choir)
Choreograph to the spiritual "Goin' Forward"; represent the bodily movement from Good Friday into Easter—procession, progression, death to new life, hope and celebration.