Blogger David Bjorlin is a worship pastor at Resurrection Covenant Church (Chicago), a lecturer in worship at North Park Theological Seminary (Chicago), and a published hymnwriter.
If you’re a worship leader or planner, entering into a new season of the Church Year may find you feeling exhilaration and exhaustion. At least, I know that’s true for me. It’s exciting to enter a familiar story and have a solid frame around which to build the service, but it can also feel like you used up all your creative ideas and favorite songs last year—or maybe those were even leftovers from the year before! It can seem easier to simply trot out the tried and true war horses that you know will get the job done than find new songs.
There is nothing wrong with using the familiar classics; in fact, I would argue that especially in these times of social and political upheaval, we should be using well-known songs that help ground our congregations when they do not have the support of an embodied congregation around them. Yet, there is also something pastoral about helping people encounter newness even in seasons of change, reminding them that adaptation and adjustment are also part of a healthy spirituality.
So, as we enter the season of Lent this year, I want to give you some of my Lenten buried treasures that you might find helpful as we begin our journey to the cross and empty tomb.
“O Love That Will Not Let Me Go”
I know calling this George Matheson hymn a “buried treasure” might be a stretch, but the more obscure hymn tune has often left this beautiful text unsung. Yet, as we begin this season of repentance and introspection, I believe it is important to be reminded that we do so accompanied by a God whose love will not let us go, whose light will follow us wherever we go, whose joy will seek us even in our pain, and whose cross will lift up our heads. For those like me who find the original tune difficult for a congregation to sing, there are two excellent alternatives written by Indelible Grace’s Chris Miner (video left) and composer Ben Brody (PDF right).
“Lay Me Low”
This traditional Shaker hymn’s message may at first appear counterintuitive or even unnecessarily negative:
Lay me low, where the Lord can find me.
Lay me low, where the Lord can hold me.
Lay me low, where the Lord can bless me.
Lay me low, oh, lay me low.
Rather than seeing this as asking God to do us harm or kick our legs out from under us, singing this song during Lent can be a prayer to slow down, to embrace the rhythms of nature and live closer to the earth where God is always at work when we take the time to notice. When I introduce this song, I often give this disclaimer to help place it into a healthier spiritual context. The tune I like to use was composed by Daniel Schwandt and is taught here by Music That Makes Community’s Executive Director Paul Vasile.
“Kyrie Eleison” (Kim/Rethmeier)
During the season of Lent, our community often uses a sung kyrie during our time of confession. After about five years of doing this, I realized I needed to start expanding our kyrie canon. While I did not expect to find too many kyries in more contemporary praise and worship styles, I was pleasantly surprised to find two that our community has embraced. The first, written by the Vineyard’s Ted Kim and Cindy Rethmeier, uses both traditional confessional language (“For the things we’ve done and left undone”) and a more contemporary language (“For the ways we’ve wandered from your heart”) and musical style to sing a corporate confession. Both a recording and chord chart can be found here.
“Kyrie Eleison” (Mejias)
The second, by High Street Hymn’s Alex Mejias, uses a simpler cyclical structure with only the traditional words of the kyrie (Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy) and a potent key change to compose an eminently singable song.
“Come All You Vagabonds” (Townend)
Those who only know Stuart Townend from his collaboration with the Gettys are perhaps in for a surprise with this lilting Irish-inspired song. Like the Jesus we read about during Lent—the one who gets in trouble for who he eats with and who he identifies with—Townend sings about God’s feast where people “of every station and orientation” are welcome and there is room enough for all. The chord chart can be found on CCLI’s Song Select, and you can also listen to the song here. (Though I usually skip the verse about welcoming abusers, not because I believe they are left outside of God’s call, but because in a context that will include those who have experienced abuse, there is not enough space in a worship song to explain how confession, reparation, and reconciliation are also part of that welcome.)
“In Labor All Creation Groans” (Dufner)
Lent is also an appropriate season to corporately lament the many things in our world that should not be. Sister Delores Dufner’s “In Labor All Creation Groans” helps congregations lament these many tragedies—hatred, prejudice, sexual violence, divison—and pray for Christ’s peace. The song can be sung to the traditional hymn tune DETROIT or a more contemporary take on DETROIT with an added refrain by Bifrost Arts.
“When the Lord Redeems the Very Least” (Dunstan)
Very few songs are as fun to sing or as theologically problematic as the Albert Brumley hymn “I’ll Fly Away.” Luckily, hymn writer Sylvia Dunstan took this down-home tune and wrote lyrics that locate the saving work of God not in some disembodied heaven in the sky, but in the coming of God’s reign on earth, when the Lord will feed the hungry, heal the sick, and revive the world. While perhaps more obviously an Advent song, it also reminds us of the Lenten call to take on acts of mercy and justice as part of the life of discipleship. The sheet music can be found here.
Hopefully, this list will help spark your imagination for how we can sing our confessions, laments, and praises to God during Lent. What are the Lenten buried treasures that you’ve found? Please don’t hesitate to share them in the comments!