The idea for this series was planted when I first read the words to the carol "White Lent" in The Oxford Book of Carols (London: Oxford University Press, 1965. No. 144). The carol is six stanzas long, set to the familiar Christmas tune ANGEVIN, known to most of us as "O Leave Your Sheep." It was the third stanza that so struck me:
To bow the head
In sackcloth and in ashes,
Or rend the soul,
Such grief is not Lent's goal;
But to be led
To where God's glory flashes,
His beauty to come nigh,
To fly, to fly,
To fly where truth and light do lie.
Upon reading these words, I had to confess that I'd had a tendency to emphasize the sackcloth and ashes in my Lenten observance and had never before associated Lent with the beauty of God. So I decided to plan a Lenten series around the theme of God's flashing glory and beauty. As that theme worked itself out, I came to focus on the idea of pursuing a vision of God, being transformed by looking on God's face. I didn't think of it at the time, but in retrospect I realize that I could have tied Transfiguration, celebrated the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, into this series very naturally.
The theme song for this series was "Shine, Jesus, Shine," by Graham Kendrick TWC 721, SFL 239. We used the second stanza as part of the prayer of confession each week:
Lord, I come to your awesome presence,
from the shadows into your radiance; by the blood I may enter your brightness, search me, try me, consume all my darkness. Shine on me. Shine on me.
from the shadows into your radiance;
by the blood I may enter your brightness,
search me, try me, consume all my darkness.
Shine on me. Shine on me.
The stanza was sung quietly, slowly, and reverently, followed by the chorus, sung much more quickly and with more energy. It provided a wonderful transition from confession into praise. Then the third stanza was used as the prayer for inspiration:
As we gaze on your kingly brightness,
so our faces display your likeness,
ever changing from glory to glory,
mirrored here may our lives tell your story.
Shine on me. Shine on me.
1987, Make Way Musk. Admin. in the US and Canada by Integrity's Hosanna! Music c/o Integrity Music, Inc. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.
The series began with an Ash Wednesday service in which we sang the hymn "White Lent." The sermon was on the Israelites' encounter with God in the wilderness at Mount Sinai, stressing their awe at his presence and the purification necessary to meet with him.
Genesis 28:10-22; John 1:43-51
The first Sunday in Lent was devoted to the story of Jacob's dream at Bethel of a ladder to heaven on which angels ascended and descended, and to Jesus' identification of himself with that ladder in the gospel of John. The choir sang John Carter's setting of "Jacob's Ladder" (Beckenhorst Press, BP1378, SAB; see also RW 34, p. 29). The final stanza of that arrangement was repeated as the benediction song for the service, sung by the congregation with the choir's leadership. We continued to use this stanza as our benediction song for the rest of the season of Lent.
That stanza says simply, "Rise, shine, give God glory, soldiers of the cross." Since we had been asking Jesus to shine on us throughout the service, it seemed fitting to end with a reminder that we are called to reflect his glory, shining in our turn with the light of Christ.
The story of the wedding at Cana follows the reference to Jacob's ladder in the gospel of John. This is an odd story to use as part of a Lenten series, because it illustrates that sometimes God's glory flashes in celebration and indulgence rather than in self-denial and sacrifice. We sang Christopher Idle's hymn "Jesus, Come! for We Invite You" TWC l87, which asks, "Give your unexpected glory, changing water into wine."
2 Corinthians 3:7-18
There is still a place for self-denial in Lent, however. Sometimes seeing the glory of God requires a setting aside of lesser glories. Paul contrasts the glory that we see in Christ with the glory glimpsed by Moses. Christ's glory is the greater because it has the power to transform us into his likeness. We sang "Glorify Your Name" TWC 10.
The well-known prologue to John's gospel also speaks of beholding the glory of God in the face of Christ. We sang the hymn "God Is Love—His the Care" TWC 400 , which praises God's beauty as shown in Christ.
In the book of Revelation, John has a vision of the kingdom to come in which we will see the face of God and will therefore need no lantern to light our way. An appropriate hymn is "When We All Get to Heaven" TWC 679 , the third stanza of which promises, "Soon his beauty we'll behold."
In the gospel of John, the story of the triumphal entiy is tied to the coming of the Greeks who say that they wish to see Jesus. This theme of seeing begins already in the first chapter of John, when Jesus invites the disciples to "Come and see" (1:39). In response to the request to see him, Jesus answers that his glory will be seen when he is lifted up on the cross. We sang Isaac Watts's "Nature with Open Volume Stands" TWC 222 to close the service and introduce Holy Week:
Nature with open volume stands
to spread her Maker's praise abroad;
and every labor of his hands
shows something worthy of a God.
But in the grace that saved the world
his brightest form of glory shines.