Songs for Lent, Palm Sunday, Easter, and Ascension

Lent, Easter, Ascension Day—what a marvelous time in the Church Year to think about the greatest events in the salvation story! What a time to bring our full adoration to our Savior— in song as well as in word!

To help us give voice to our adoration, more diverse styles of music are being used in worship today than ever before. "Musical eclecticism is the call of the day" (from of the preface of Gather, p. 6).

Especially for churches that are just beginning to stretch into Praise & Worship songs, on these pages we offer worship planning suggestions to help your congregation integrate the songs into the flow of the service and use them to worship our risen Lord.


"Meekness and Majesty," Graham Kendrick
"I'm Forever Grateful," Mark Altrogge

"Meekness and Majesty," by English songwriter Graham Kendrick (featured in RW 39), is based on John 13:12-16 and Philippians 2:6-11. It provides the elements of a contemporary Praise & Worship song, but it is also packed with wonderful theology. Jack Schrader, who arranged an octavo setting of this song (Hope Publishing Co., #GC927), says, "If ever a text was rich with theological truth, this is certainly one. It explores the profound mystery of the union of the human and divine in Jesus Christ. And it concludes with the only proper response to that reality: to fall in reverence and worship exclaiming, 'This is your God!'"

"I'm Forever Grateful" by Mark Altrogge is based on Galatians 6:14: "May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." See also Philippians 2:7-8 and Luke 19:10. God's priority is to seek and to save the lost. So God sent the Son. This song also expresses the Reformed conviction that God sought us first. Instead of waiting for us to draw near to him, God called us. In a beautiful response of gratitude, we sing, "And I'm forever grateful to you." May we sing it with overflowing hearts!

Sing the song twice and repeat the chorus once more to give yourself time to revel in those thoughts. Sing it during Lent, on Good Friday, or for any time of confession of sins and assurance of pardon.

For the congregational melody-only anangement, use Songs for Praise and Worship, Word Music, 1992.

Word has compiled companion books (with instrument-appropriate parts for synthesizer, flute, guitar, and so on) that are very helpful for churches who have a praise band. Following are some suggestions on how to weave Palm Sunday worship together using these songs, along with some traditional favorites. There are about fifteen to twenty minutes' worth of seamless music here. Try to keep the flow going without stops between songs. You may need to pick and choose from these songs, depending on what your congregation already knows and how much time you have. Don't add more than one new song in a service!

Call to Worship

"Lift Up Your Heads," Steve Fry, arr. Fettke (When God's People Praise, Integrity Music, 1991). For five-voice praise team. At a later date let congregation sing it from Songs for Praise & Worship. Also good for Advent.

Worship leader says, as piano continues playing, Psalm 24 says, "Lift up your heads, 0 you gates; be liftedup, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord Almighty—he is the King of glory." Lift up your heads to the coming King. Bow before God and adore him. Praise the King of kings! On this Palm Sunday may God be praised in our worship.

Palm Sunday Narrative

Ask a second-grade child to dramatically tell the story from a children's story Bible. She can enact tying the donkey to a post, spreading coats on the road, and so on as she recites the story. A recorder can quietly play the melody of "All Glory, Laud, and Honor" in the background. The child can pick up two palm branches from the floor and exit down the middle aisle, shouting, "Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"

"Make Way," Graham Kendrick (Make Way Public Praise, Make Way Music, 1991). Children's choir with antiphonal choruses. Congregation could join on the final choruses and segue into the next song with no introduction. "Hosanna," Carl Tuttle (Songs for Praise & Worship, p. 82). Go directly into the next song with no instrumental introduction. "O Worship the King" (PsH 428, PH 476, RL 2, TH 2) stanza 1. Immediately play the first line of the next song as an introduction. "The King of Glory Comes" (PsH 370, SFL 156); Israeli song.

"King of Kings" Ancient Hebrew folk song (Songs for Praise & Worship, p. 94, SFL 16). Do some clapping and snapping. Omit modulation, but repeat it a few times so you can enjoy the round.

The worship leader says, "Give your worship to King Jesus."

"You Are the King of Glory," David and Lisa Loden (Unity Praise and Worship, vol. 1, Unity Music Ministries, 1986). Play only the first two measures as an introduction. For the descant sing "ah" on small notes.

During piano introduction, the worship leader says,

The crowds in Jerusalem had trouble seeing who Jesus really was. On Palm Sunday they were proclaiming him King; by the end of the week they were convinced that he was a criminal. His character was so complexand intertwined: both God and man, majestic and meek. Though he was God, he clothed himself in frail humanity in order that he could lift our humanity to the heights of his throne. Bow down and worship, for this is your God!

"Meekness and Majesty," Graham Kendrick (Praise Chorus Book, 2nd & 3rd edition, Maranatha! Music, 1990,1993). Add a tag of "Bow down ..." to the end. Modulate by playing the "Bow down and" measure, then a Dsus chord for 3 beats, a D chord for 2 beats. Go right into playing "I'm Forever Grateful" quietly during the Prayer of Confession, led by the worship leader:

Dear Jesus, Son of God, how we praise you for who you are: the greatest king who ever lived. And yet you did not consider your high position something to hang on to. You lowered yourself to death, even death on a cross. You stood in our place, condemned to die. How we thank you for your amazing love!
We are so sorry for our part in your death. It was for our sins that you died. Each one was heaped on your shoulders as you hung on the cross. Please forgive us for causing you such pain and sorrow. Man of sorrows, we love you. In your name we pray. Amen.
"I'm Forever Grateful"—Mark Altrogge (Songs for Praise & Worship, p. 114).


"Christ the Lord Is Risen Today," Charles Wesley (EASTER HYMN)

There is likely no tune in all of Christendom that is so universally sung on any festal day as easter HYMN, "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today." Charles Wesley, author of the text, was born nearly three hundred years ago in England. He was the eighteenth and youngest child of Samuel and Susanna Wesley. The father and three sons all wrote hymns, and a daughter wrote exquisite religious poetry.

God gave Charles the wonderful ability to write poetry that touched the hearts of all who read it. He often wrote hymns to fit the sermon texts on which his brother John was preaching. Both brothers were evangelists and musicians. They believed that hymns were a kind of creed in verse.

Charles Wesley, one of the greatest hymn writers of all time (he wrote over 6,500 hymns!), wrote this text in 1739. Though two hundred and fifty years later it is universally popular, this song did not even make it into the hymnals of Wesley's day. In 1780 his brother John compiled and published the Wesley Hymn Book Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People Called Methodists but did not include "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today." It was finally added in a supplement to that book in 1830 when the song was about one hundred years old.

This song has gone through some tremendous changes over the centuries. Wesley would probably have to look twice to recognize his poem in our hymn-books. He originally wrote eleven verses and did not include the alleluias! The alleluias, however, make this a song in which even the youngest of children can participate. For variety, sing it antiphonally. Adults sing the first two measures of each line, children answer with the alleluia; or have the left side of the church begin, with the right side answering "Alleluia."

In church school, children could experiment with a simple descant: sing the last two measures of the song during the first two alleluias; then sing the first alleluia an octave up during the last two measures of the song; sing together on line three. (Also see the dance motions in Songs for LiFE, Leader's Edition.)

The tune EASTER HYMN is a medieval Latin carol. It was first published in Lyra Davidica in London, 1708, and is the only surviving tune from that collection. The text set to easter HYMN at that time was "Jesus Christ Is Risen Today" by an anonymous fourteenth-century author. That combination of text and tune is still included in some hymnals today (Presbyterian Hymnal and Rejoice in the Lord). Later Wesley's words were joined with EASTER HYMN.

About a half year before Easter, recruit an advanced high school pianist to learn the challenging and exciting arrangement of "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today" from Advanced Artistry for the Church Pianist, arr. Stephen Walley (Hope #247). Use as a prelude on Easter morning.

After the gathering music, have someone read the resurrection account from Mark 16:1-6. Finish with the words, "You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen!" The reader exclaims, "The Lord has risen!" and the congregation responds, "He has risen indeed!" The congregation can then welcome one another with this greeting of the early Christian church.

For nearly twenty years I have gathered a trumpet choir on Easter to bring extra enthusiasm to the annual singing of this great hymn.

The nice thing about a trumpet choir is that it's a nonthrreatening way to perform: there is comfort in numbers.

I've discovered that it's great fun to call all former and present trumpeters together several weeks before Easter to begin practicing, In the first church we served, we had fourteen trumpeters, from fifth graders to the high school basketball coach who hadn't played in many years. This is a good opportunity for people of different ages to work together toward a cause. And what better cause than the celebration of Jesus' resurrection!

After the opening greetings of the service, the trumpet choir plays, unaccompanied, once through the hymn. The organ joins as the congregation sings. There are many arrangement possibilities; one which follows the traditional hymnal harmony is found in the B-flat set of Psalter Hymnal Instrumentations: Hymns for Easter and Ascension (available from CRC Publications; call 800-333-8300 in the US, or 800-263-4252 in Canada). The trumpet choir could all play harmony on stanzas 1 and 2 (SATB parts in trumpet range), all melody on stanza 3, half on melody and half on descants on stanza 4, and on stanza 5 either all on descants or all on melody while the organist plays an alternative accompaniment.

Follow the singing of "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today" with a prayer, then move into singing some of these songs, uninterrupted, one after the other:

"Celebrate Jesus, Celebrate," Gary Oliver (Praise Chorus Book, 3rd ed., Maranatha! Music, 1993). Don't even try this one with organ. It needs keyboards, guitars, and drums!

"Jesus Is Alive," Ron Kenoly (Come and Worship, Integrity Music, 1994). You may need a trumpeter who is good at syncopation to double the melody in order to teach this one! (Both this song and "Celebrate Jesus, Celebrate" are also found in "Celebrate Medley," a four-song octavo for solo, praise team, choir and congregation, arranged by Fettke and Kirkland, Integrity Music, #4610C, orchestration and tracks available.)

"All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name" (CORONATION, RL 593, key of F). Read Ephesians l:19b-23 during the introduction.

"He Is Lord" (PsH 633, SFL 178). Segue right from "All Hail the Power," which ends, "And crown him Lord of all."


"Alleluia, He Is Coming," Martha Butler, arr., Mimi Farra

We have made it through the busy high feasts of the Church Year. And then Ascension Day sneaks up on us! Without this often-ignored event, the other feasts would lose their potency. The baby born, the man who died and arose, would not be as powerful were it not for the Ascension. But he is Lord in heaven, at God's right hand. And he is coming again to claim the whole of his territory. Let's celebrate!

The worship leader begins the Ascension service by reading, as the Common Lectionary suggests, from Luke 24:50-52. The leader should repeat verse 52, "Then they worshiped him . . . with great joy!" and then say to the congregation, "Come, let us worship the king!"

Spend the first part of your service singing of Christ's power and lordship: "See the Conqueror Mounts in Triumph" (PsH 414, RL 334, TH 291), stanzas 1-2. Hold the last note three extra beats. Then, without any further musical introduction, go right into the next song.

"All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name" (PsH 471, PH 142, 143, RL 593, 594, TH 296, 297), stanzas 3 and 4 in the key of G. No pause before introducing the next set of songs: "Crown Him with Many Crowns/All Hail King Jesus." (Nice contemporary arrangement for piano and praise band accompaniment is found in The Great Hymns and Choruses of Yesterday and Today, Maranatha! Music, 1989.)

The Revised Common Lectionary calls for us to read Psalm 47 because its language is descriptive of the Ascension: "God has ascended with shouts of joy... God reigns over the nations, he is seated on his holy throne." Read Psalm 47:5-8, then sing Psalm 47 (GENEVAN 47 PsH 47). Be sure to swing the tempo along at about metronome half note=100.

Then the accompanist can segue into "Alleluia, He Is Coming" at quarter note=100. During the introduction the worship leader reads the Ascension account in Acts 1:10-11, "They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 'Men of Galilee,' they said, 'Why do you stand here looking up into the sky? This same Jesus ... will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.'" Alleluia! He is coming!

Go immediately into singing all four verses of "Alleluia, He Is Coming." This song works well with either organ or guitars. See liturgical dance. Think through the dynamics of each verse and chorus. Stanza 2 should be soft, stanza 3 softer yet. Both of these refrains should be stronger and full of hope. Come down in dynamics during the last phrase of the fourth refrain. Then repeat the refrain triumphantly all the way to the end.

Review "Alleluia, He Is Coming" during Advent as you remember Christ's two comings. This song helps us keep "the rest of the story" in mind during celebrations that focus on only part of Jesus' life. ■




I looked up and saw my Lord a-comin'

[Worship leader facing congregation uses left hand to begin. Congregation mirrors leader, using right hand to begin.

Arm comes up, elbow slightly bent, palm facing up. Stop above shoulder height.

Head follows hand.]

I looked up and saw my Lord a-comin'

[Same arm movement as before, only using opposite arm.]

down the road

[Keeping right arm in the air (worship leader R, congregation L arm) moke gentle sweeping (palms up and cupped) S-curve motions ending at heart when end of the note comes. Head follows hand.]

Alleluia, he is coming: [arms are in place on the last word]

[Begin head bowed, follow motion of hands. Elbows bent, palms together at waist height, bring arms up straight above head. Then bring down to shoulder height, elbows slightly bent, looking up to the Lord who is coming.]

Alleluia, He is here: [arms are in place on the last word]

[Begin again as above, elbows bent, palms together at waist height, head bowed. Bring arms up over head. Then bringarms down on either side, this time elbows at waist height and forearms extended palms up. Establish eye contact to say he is here. You may wish to nod your head once as affirmation.]

Repeat both of above.

[Drop both arms to sides before beginning verses.]

I looked up and saw my Lord a-weepin'

[Begin as before (see fig. 1). Bring left arm up, elbow slightly bent, palm up, eyes follow hand. On the word "weeping," bend arm at elbow and, turning head to left, wipe tear from right cheek. Drop arm.]

I looked up and saw my Lord a-weepin'

[Repeat same action opposite side.]

for my sin

[Cross arms over chest, hands clenched, head bowed.]


I looked up and saw my Lord a-dyin'

[Same as fig. 1. Bring hand to shoulder and bow head to rest on hand in fist.]

I looked up and saw my Lord a-dyin'

[Repeat on opposite side.]

for my sin

[Bring left arm up first clenched, bent at elbow, out in front of chest. Cross right arm, fist clenched over left to form cross. Bow head.]


I looked up and saw my Lord a-risin'

[Bring left arm up same as fig. 1, this time bringing hand to shoulder height, and on the word "risin'," make a stronger movement upward, extending hand slightly farther.]

I looked up and saw my Lord a-risin'

[Repeat, keeping left arm raised.]

from the grave

[On the word "grave," extend arms, palms up, in victorious stance, head back.]


Carla Brouwer is director of music ministries, Calvary Christian Reformed Church, Holland, Michigan.


Reformed Worship 42 © December 1996, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.