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Songs for Lent, Healing, Palm Sunday, and Easter

All the songs presented here will be included in the forthcoming hymnal Sing! A New Creation. A committee of ten from the Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church has selected about 270 songs for the hymnal. These were chosen from the best of contemporary hymn writers worldwide, including choruses from such diverse sources as Iona, Maranatha, Taizé, and Word. Spoken prayers, litanies, and responsorial psalms will also be included. The text or tune of every song in this new collection has been written in the last fifty years, a period of the greatest outpouring of worship songs in all of history.

Throughout These Lenten Days and Nights

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Last year, when our church’s worship planning team started thinking about Lent, we looked for a song that would cast a view over the entire season. We thought of the “forty days” (not counting Sundays) of Lent, and two older hymns came to mind, “Forty Days and Forty Nights” and “Lord Jesus, Who Through Forty Days.” But both of those focus on the forty days of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Then, in browsing through The Book of Praise (Presbyterian Church of Canada, 1997), I came across this recent hymn text by James Gertmenian, a Congregational pastor in Connecticut. He submitted this hymn text to the January 1993 issue of NewSong, a newsletter (edited by Brian Wren and published by Hope Publishing Co.) that encourages the writing of new congregational hymns. Since that first publication, two recent hymnals have picked up this song. The Book of Praise (Presbyterian Church of Canada) includes it to the tune breslau and Voices United (United Church of Canada) set it to winchester new. For Sing! A New Creation, we chose tallis canon.

During Lent last year we sang different groups of stanzas each week, depending on what fit best with the Scripture and sermon. The first week the choir sang the first two stanzas as a call to worship; the next week the choir sang stanza 1 and the congregation joined on stanzas 2 and 3; the next week we sang 1, 2, 4, 5. The tune tallis canon invites singing in harmony, so on Palm Sunday we sang the song at the end of the service as our final hymn. The choir stood in the back, singing unaccompanied on stanza 1; the congregation joined us unaccompanied on stanza 5; and then on stanza 6 the congregation began and the choir sang in canon, singing in harmony one phrase after the congregation. It was a very beautiful ending to the service, pointing to Easter Sunday.

We found that the hymn was a good way to journey “throughout these Lenten days and nights.”

Healer of Our Every III

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Marty Haugen (see interview and another of his songs on pp. 32–35) wrote this gentle prayer for healing in 1987; it first appeared in Gather, a collection of contemporary worship songs published by GIA. Typical of Haugen’s style, this song could be sung by two groups: everyone singing the refrain, and single voices or a choir on the stanzas. The accompaniment is clearly composed for piano rather than organ; guitar and piano together would be very appropriate.

Consider using this song as a part of the congregational prayer. It may be sung as intercession for a particular healing need in your congregation but is appropriate at any time, especially the last two stanzas. In fact, the refrain could be sung independently as a prayer response after different spoken petitions for healing, perhaps interspersed with one or more of the stanzas.

There Is a Redeemer

Melody Green wrote this meditative song in 1982, the year her husband, Keith Green, was killed in a plane crash that also took the lives of two of their young children. Keith was only twenty-eight when he died.

The Greens, both talented musicians, met in their teens at a time when both were searching for spiritual meaning. Soon after they were married, their lives and ministry took a radical turn, and they committed themselves to Christ. You can read more about Keith and their ministry together on the website that Melody Green maintains: www.keithgreen.com.

“There Is a Redeemer” is a short, simple song of adoration and hope that is also a powerful confession of faith about Christ, the Lamb of God, and our relationship to him. One of the strengths of the text is its trinitarian refrain. Sing the verses with quiet strength, rising in volume on the beginning of each statement of the refrain, and then ending more quietly.

The version printed here is intended for the singers’ edition of Sing!; the leaders’ edition will contain additional accompaniment for keyboard. The first few bars of that keyboard accompaniment are included below:

Psalm 118: Hail and Hosanna

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Psalm 118 has long been associated with both Palm Sunday (“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. . . . With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession,” vv. 26-27) and Easter (especially a verse like “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone,” v. 22). Here is a refrain by James L. H. Brumm and Alfred V. Fedak that can be sung along with the reading of portions of that psalm. Brumm is a pastor in the Reformed Church in America, and Fedak is a widely published composer of hymns and anthems. Both have written for Reformed Worship, and both are members of the committee that prepared Sing! A New Creation. This refrain is extracted from an anthem published by the Choristers Guild for a three-part treble canon for Palm Sunday; they composed it for the twentieth annual festival of the Central Jersey Chapter of Choristers Guild.

Here is one suggestion for singing this refrain with the reading of portions of Psalm 118 on Palm Sunday or Easter Sunday, either as a call to worship or as part of the Scripture reading before the sermon. (If you choose to do the reading responsively, the boldface type indicates verses that are to be spoken by everyone.)

Introduction (repeat the accompaniment to the first measure two times on organ, piano, bells, or a combination)

Refrain (sung first by all the children)

Psalm 118:1-2a, 2b, 41, 4b

Refrain (sung by all)

Psalm 118:14, 15-16, 17-18, 19, 20

Refrain

Psalm 118:21-22, 23, 24,25, 26, 27a, 27b, 28, 29

Refrain (sung as a round)

On the last statement of the refrain, enjoy the delight of singing as a round, with the children singing the three parts. The accompaniment for singing in canon adds a measure to take care of the extra music needed. You might want to end by singing the song one more time with the entire congregation in canon.

If you would like to purchase the entire anthem (GGA-605), contact the Lorenz Corporation, 501 E. Third St., Box 802, Dayton, OH 45401, or order directly from the Choristers Guild (phone: 972-271-1521; e-mail: ; choristers@choristersguild.org website: http://www.choristersguild.org).

Christ Is Risen

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Here is the first of two recent Easter texts that have been set to familiar tunes. The first, “Christ Is Risen,” was written by the well-known hymn writer Brian Wren, who composed it with another tune in mind. When the committee who planned the 1989 United Methodist Hymnal was considering this text to still another tune, Wren suggested using w zlobie lezy, a Polish tune that is often sung to the Christmas text “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly.” w zlobie lezy has “reflective qualities and musical connection of Christ’s nativity and resurrection, a tune that aptly expresses the metaphors of a tree growing in the desert with ‘healing leaves of grace’” (Companion to the United Methodist Hymnal, p. 275).

Like the next hymn, this one will be immediately accessible to your congregation if they know the Christmas carol. But the mood and spirit of this text are obviously quite different. Sing it with gusto!

Born in Essex, educated at Oxford, and ordained in Britain’s United Reformed Church, Brian Wren is now a citizen of the United States. This past summer, after seventeen years working as a freelance poet, hymn writer, and theologian, Wren accepted an appointment as professor of worship at Columbia Theological Seminary, Atlanta, Georgia.

Alleluia! Jesus Is Risen!

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In 1964, Herbert Brokering (b. 1926) wrote “Earth and All Stars” for the ninetieth anniversary of St. Olaf College. Set to the tune composed for it by David Johnson, formerly chairman of the department of music at St. Olaf, that hymn became well-known and well-loved. Brokering was a pastor for a time, but he also served many years in different denominations as a consultant in the area of creative worship; he has written over thirty books. A few years ago, Brokering took that same tune and wrote a jubilant Easter text for it. The resulting combination is so joyful that many congregations have found it to be an instant “hit.”

The text is constructed in many short phrases; you may recall the “catalog” nature of the “Earth and All Stars” text that lists many different parts of creation followed each time by “Sing to the Lord a new song.” This new text similarly moves from one image to the next in a series of exclamations of joy. The refrain is pure delight. Since this tune may well be known by your congregation, try it this Easter and listen to the rafters ring!

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