Songs for Lent and Easter

With this “Songs for the Season,” we again introduce songs on the working list for the new hymnal supplement being prepared jointly by CRC Publications, the Commission for Worship of the Reformed Church in America, and the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. This supplement is intended to introduce twentieth-century hymnody, praise music, and world music that will enhance Reformed worship. If all goes well, the new book and an accompanying leader’s guide will be ready in the year 2000.

Another accent in this article is on songs from that list that will be useful both in Lent and Easter. More often than not, our patterns of worship planning show a radical discontinuity between the Lenten emphases on penitence and preparation and Easter’s stress on celebration and new life. Many of us follow the ancient tradition of singing no Alleluias in Lent; we change the paraments, banners, and decorations around the sanctuary; and we transform other elements of the liturgy. Yet Howard Hageman, the late president of New Brunswick Theological Seminary and author of We Call This Friday Good (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1961; see the service using that book in RW 26) pointed out that, as Reformed Christians, we must remember that we always look at Good Friday through the prism of Easter. By extension, the love of God, the bloom of which we celebrate at Eastertide, is seen germinating in the Lenten Scriptures.


Open Our Eyes, Lord

The Revised Common Lectionary brings us the story of the man born blind (John 9:1-41) on the fourth Sunday in Lent this year, and “Open Our Eyes, Lord” is a natural response to that story. The request “Open our ears, Lord” can help tie the song to the gospel lessons for the two previous weeks, where we encounter Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman at the well. The song has a clear theme of illumination, which, in addition to its obvious connections to Lenten preparation, gives congregations a prayer for illumination that they can sing throughout the year. I wrote an additional stanza to strengthen that liturgical use:

Open your Word, Lord,
as we search your story,
and breathe in your Spirit,
that we may see Jesus.
Open our hearts, Lord,
to burn with your Good News.
Open your Word, Lord,
that we may see Jesus.

Robert Cull (born 1949), a pastor with a traveling music ministry, wrote this text and tune in Hawaii during the summer of 1975, in order to reach some “close-hearted people.” After a half hour in prayer, he says, the song “fell into my head.” It has been translated and recorded in dozens of languages.


We Are Members of Christ’s Body (FONTHILL)

This text and tune were written by Bert Polman, professor of music at Redeemer College, Ancaster, Ontario, whom readers of RW know very well. The tune is named for the street where Polman lives with his wife, Betty, and was originally written for the Advent hymn “Herald, Sound the Note of Judgment” by Moir A. J. Waters. The text was written for the inaugural of Dr. Wayne Norman as professor of psychology at Redeemer; his inaugural address dealt with community, drawing on his research on interaction between left and right sides of the brain. Bert picked up on this theme with biblical images of the human body and its parts as symbols of Christian community.

Thematically, the hymn relates directly to the fifth Sunday in Lent and the story of the valley of dry bones (Ezek. 37:1-14). The Old Testament lessons from the Revised Common Lectionary deal with covenant stories straight through Lent, however, while the Easter epistles address the implications of living as a covenant community. The fifth Sunday of Easter, where the people of God are seen as living stones built up together (1 Pet. 2:2-10), would be an especially good place to reintroduce this “Lenten” hymn. If you can scare up a brass ensemble in May, consider accompanying the hymn’s second outing with a solo horn (not necessarily trumpet) through the first two phrases, and then have full brass play where Bert calls for singing in harmony.

My Shepherd Is the Lord (Psalm 23)
Shepherd Me, O God (Psalm 23)

The most obvious tie between the Revised Common Lectionary’s themes this year is this: Psalm 23 is appointed for the fourth Sunday in both the Lent and Easter seasons. Since the Reformed tradition is replete with various metrical settings of this psalm, our new supplement (yet to be named) will include a few responsorial settings. In responsorial psalmody, the psalm text is either sung by choir or soloist or read aloud by a leader or the congregation, and everyone sings the refrain together.

Two refrains for the new supplement are presented here. “Shepherd Me, O God,” by Marty Haugen (born 1950) might well be more suitable for Lent, while the more sprightly refrain “My Shepherd Is the Lord”—by Joseph Gelineau (born 1920), a French Jesuit and well-known composer of psalm settings—might seem more fitting for Eastertide. If your congregation were to read the verses of the psalm the same way in both Lent and Easter, while changing the refrain, it might provide a good springboard for discussing God’s consistent love and care in the two different contexts. Or consider using the first four verses as a call to confession, singing the Haugen refrain, with the final two verses and the Gelineau refrain as a response to the assurance of pardon.

Another possibility is to have the choir or a small group sing the verses of the psalm. Marty Haugen has composed a beautiful and simple setting for choir, keyboard, and congregation (G.I.A., G-2950). A slightly different setting is found in Gather (G.I.A.; see review of Gather in RW 43, p. 46). Marty Haugen is a prolific and popular liturgical composer and recording artist from Minnesota; he is currently composer in residence at Mayflower United Church of Christ in Minneapolis.


Christ Is Risen! Shout Hosanna! (JACKSON NEW)

Howard Hageman, in reminding his liturgics students about how we are to view Good Friday through the prism of Easter (see above), suggested that the last hymn in the Good Friday liturgy ought to be “The Strife Is O’er, the Battle Done,” to remind us that “the three sad days have quickly sped,” that we celebrate the crucifixion knowing the outcome. I followed that suggestion in parishes with great success. This hymn, with its exhortations to “Raise your spirits from the caverns of despair” and “Tell (earth’s) grim demonic chorus: ‘Christ is risen! Get you gone!’” might well be a contemporary hymn to fill that function. It certainly makes a smashing song for Eastertide.

Brian Wren (born 1936), a minister of the United Reformed Church in England who now lives in Maine and conducts worship workshops around the world, wrote the text in 1984 for this tune, which was composed by William Rowan (born 1951), organist and choirmaster at St. Mary Cathedral in Lansing, Michigan. In his book Piece Together Praise: a Theological Journey (Hope, 1996), Wren writes, “Christian peace and justice action finds its wellspring, not in moral zeal or guilty conscience, but in the resurrection. The more we trust and know that Christ is risen, the more we can elude despair and endure disappointment.”

To help the congregation learn the syncopation in the first, second, and fourth lines of the hymn, and to add to the feeling of celebration and joyful abandon, you might try a “Salzburg Stomp” at the eighth rests. The “stomp” is part of Carl Orff’s body percussion for teaching music to children: while standing, keep one leg and foot stationary while bending the other leg at the knee and stomping the floor with a quick kicking motion. The children in your congregation might be able to teach this stomp to the adults.

Halle, Halle, Hallelujah

This lively Caribbean song belongs firmly among our Easter celebrations and could make a striking entrance or gathering song. Marty Haugen has expanded the simple original refrain by composing four Easter stanzas that are accompanied, appropriately, by the refrain itself. Stanzas 1, 2, and 3 will fit very nicely with the gospel lessons for the sixth, fourth, and fifth Sundays of Easter, respectively (notice that they don’t quite fit in order), while stanza 4 would work for the first three Sundays.

Since there are no words for the congregation to sing except “Halle, halle, hallelujah,” it might be easier to teach the song by rote than to have them read it. Children will certainly be able to “feel” the rhythm more easily than they could read it. One of the advantages of this, of course, is that you could have the entire congregation join in a procession, singing.

Under the best of circumstances, this song is sung a capella, with the choir “accompanying” the congregation by singing in harmony. If you’d like, have some maracas or other rhythm instruments play an ostinato like the one printed here. If a tonal accompaniment is necessary, it should be with percussive instruments such as piano or guitar, rather than organ. Maybe there’s someone in your congregation who plays a steel drum! No matter what, have fun with the song, and enjoy praising God.



The fourth set of Psalter Hymnal Instrumentations: Hymns for Celebration and Meditation, is now available, featuring some of the best known and loved hymns of all time. Many of you have used the other three sets so often that you asked for more hymns to include instrumental players in worship. The other three sets include Hymns for Advent and Christmas, for Easter and Ascension, and for Praise and Thanksgiving.

If you have not involved your instrumentalists in worship for a while, now is a good time to start again. Even if you have only one or two young or older players in your congregation, invite them to play along on the congregational hymns and use these gifts in worship. The instrumentations are taken directly from the Psalter Hymnal.

Here is a partial listing of the thirty hymns in this new collection:

“All Creatures of Our God and King”
“Amazing Grace”
“And Can It Be”
“Baptized in Water”
“Beautiful Savior”
“Breathe on Me, Breath of God”
“By the Sea of Crystal”
“Children of the Heavenly Father”

To order, call CRC Publications (1-800-333-8300) and ask for this collection in one or all of the three keys in which they are offered ($7.50 each).

Hymns for Celebration and Meditation

for B flat instruments: #2100-0891RW
clarinet, bass clarinet, tenor sax, trumpet, and treble-clef baritone

for C instruments: #2100-0892RW
piccolo, flute, oboe, bassoon, trombone, baritone, tuba, violin, cello, and string bass

for E flat and F instruments: #2100-0893RW

E flat: alto clarinet, alto sax, horn in E flat
F: French horn and English horn

James Hart Brumm ( is pastor and teacher of Blooming Grove Reformed Church (RCA) in DeFreestville, New York. He is editor of Liturgy Among the Thorns: Essays on Worship in the Reformed Church in America (Eerdmans, 2008). A new collection of his hymns, Rhythms of Praises, has recently been published by Wayne Leupold Editions.

Reformed Worship 50 © December 1998 Worship Ministries of the Christian Reformed Church. Used by permission.