Here are some thoughts about worship, especially music, in the season of Lent. To be more precise, here are some thoughts about worship, especially music, for the Sundays in the season of Lent. This clarification is necessary because all Sundays are celebrations of Jesus’ resurrection, including those that fall in the time between Ash Wednesday and the Three Days. Hence, we call them Sundays in Lent, not Sundays of Lent.
Have you noticed that there has been a change—in content, in “tone”—to the season of Lent? Those of us “of a certain age” (over 50) have noticed it. It has been written that in 2012, we are called to celebrate Lent more like 4th century than 14th century Christians. (For more on this, see Worship Guidebook for Lent and the Three Days [Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, © 2009], pages 4-15.) What does this mean?
By the 4th century, the church was holding an annual celebration of the resurrection, called Pascha, and doing that on a Sunday. Pascha also became the primary occasion for baptism in the church. Also by the 4th century, a period of preparation for Pascha developed; it came to last 40 days, and was called Lent. During Lent, catechumens were given final preparation for baptism—mostly adult catechumens. And those under discipline from the church were returned to sacramental life through public repentance.
But by the 14th century, adult baptisms had virtually disappeared, and the penance of a few public sinners had become a general season of penance for every individual. This understanding of Lent is the one I grew up with. The Wednesdays of Lent seemed like five weeks of Good Friday; in fact, I recently heard someone suggest that Lent was more preparation for Good Friday than for Easter, and I think that is accurate.
But now the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) and the prayers for Lent would have us celebrate a Lent that is closer to the 4th century than the 14th.
Unfortunately, I suspect that in many places our singing has not kept pace with this change.
So how should we, with assembly song, make Lent more of a season of baptismal preparation or remembrance, more of a celebration of Resurrection? One suggestion would be to sing a baptismal hymn on each of the Sundays in Lent. Choose one from the Lenten section of Evangelical Lutheran Worship—ELW 321, 323, 328, 330, or 331 are possibilities—if it’s new, teach it to the assembly by using it for several Sundays, or for the entire season.
Or, look at the First Readings for the Sundays in Lent. This year, Year B in the RCL, those readings tell of five of the great covenants God made with God’s people in the Hebrew Scriptures. Here are those readings, with suggested hymns to go with them. (Perhaps your preachers would preach a series on these covenants and their baptismal relationships as well).
1st Sunday = Noah/flood (Gen. 9:8-17)
Link to baptism: see Luther’s flood prayer (ELW p. 230)
Hymn suggestions: ELW 445, Wash, O God, Our Sons and Daughters; ELW 613, Thy Holy Wings
2nd Sunday = Abraham & Sarah (Gen. 17:1-17)
Link to baptism: new names are given to Abraham & Sarah, we are named at baptism
Hymn: ELW 442 All Who Believe and Are Baptized
3rd Sunday = Moses & Israel (Exod. 20:1-17)
Link to baptism: The Israelites are brought to freedom through the sea, we are also delivered through water
Hymn: ELW 453 Baptized and Set Free
4th Sunday = Moses and the serpent on the pole (Num. 21:4-9)
Link to baptism: serpent on a pole/Jesus on the cross/sign of the cross on the baptized
Hymn: ELW 454 Remember and Rejoice
5th Sunday = Jeremiah and the “new covenant” (Jer. 31:31-34)
Link to baptism: we see the “new covenant” in Jesus, into whom we are baptized
Hymn: ELW 330 Seed That in Earth Is Dying (this relates also to the gospel reading for the day)