Lent is a time for repentance, for acknowledging that our bodies and this earth are suffering under the curse of sin, and for confessing our need for Christ to save and redeem by dying on the cross. Moving through Lent is a strategic time for pastors and worship leaders to provide for their congregations context for Easter and make the celebration of Christ's resurrection all the more joyful.
The songs here will help you do that, both in personal worship times and in our corporate worship assemblies. Think of these songs as a modern Lenten hymnal, a selection for the Lent season.
Jesus Paid It All
This gospel hymn is as simple as a children's song, but it preaches the deep truth that Lent is designed to highlight: “Sin had left a crimson stain/He washed it white as snow.”
The first verse captures the essence of Lent:
I hear the Savior say
“Thy strength indeed is small;
Child of weakness, watch and pray,
Find in me thine all in all.”
O Love That Will Not Let Me Go
This George Mathison hymn contrasts our “weary soul” and “flickering torch” with the “blazing sunlight” of Christ, recognizing that he is more than our reason for living—-he is our life. The hymn admits the reality of suffering, and lets the singers confess their trust in Christ as deliverer:
O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.
I love the Indelible Grace version, with melody by Christopher Miner. If your church is familiar with the traditional melody written by Albert Peace, it may be best to stick with that one (however, sometimes the use of a new melody will cause people to reconnect with a song, as if hearing it for the first time).
How Deep the Father's Love for Us
Stuart Townend and Keith Getty have given us many theologically solid modern hymns. This song helps your congregation own up to their part in Christ's crucifixion:
Behold the man upon a cross
My sin upon his shoulders;
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers
You may be familiar with the version performed by Keith and Kristyn Getty. If your church leans to a more progressive rock sound, check out the version by Mars Hill worship band Kenosis.
O the Blood
This contemporary song by Gateway Church is simple but powerful, with an anthemic chorus. The verses each show the connection between our sin and Jesus' payment for that sin:
Grace, how can it be
That in my sin—-Yes, even then
He shed his blood for me?
Let Your Blood Plead for Me
My pastor Mike Cosper and I adapted this Isaac Watts hymn along with Sojourn worship leader Jeremy Quillo. I wanted the church to recover this forgotten gem because Watts's treatment of the law as an agent to show our need for Christ was the best I'd ever seen in poetry.
When your congregation sings this song, they acknowledge that God's standard is impossible to attain; we must rest our case on Christ's atonement for our sin:
My guilt appeared so small before/ till terribly I saw How perfect, holy, just and pure was your eternal law
Hosanna (Praise Is Rising)
I've included this Paul Baloche/Brenton Brown song mainly as an option for your Palm Sunday service. Palm Sunday occurs the Sunday before Easter, to mark Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem. This joyous song is perfect for that occasion (and for anytime you need a good celebratory song).
There is irony in the fact that Jerusalem's shouts of “Hosanna” turned into “Crucify him!” days later. If you go for a full throttle Palm Sunday celebration, you need to craft a liturgical turn at some point, to let your people feel the weight of Christ's passion. It is especially important to do this on Palm Sunday if you aren't going to hold a Good Friday service. Listen to Hosanna here.
He Never Said a Mumblin' Word
Like many of the best African American spirituals, “He Never Said a Mumblin' Word” makes good use of repetition. Each time we sing “Not a word, not a word, not a word,” it's like a nail, driving home the thought that our Lord didn't go to the cross pleading for his life. He wasn't caught up in events outside of his control. Just as we progress through the 40 days of Lent, Christ progressed through time and his earthly ministry in the surety that he would give his life for us.
The Bifrost Arts version is a good one for creating a mood of quiet reflection, and it will be easy for your congregation to sing.
All I Have Is Christ
Sovereign Grace churches have given us some of the richest new worship music over the last decade, and this song by Jordan Kauflin and the Na Band is one of the best to come from this network.
Remember that the point of Lent is to rehearse the why of the cross: to acknowledge our frailty, our fallenness, and our extreme need. This song will help your congregation declare that Christ is our only hope for salvation (“And if you had not loved me first/ I would refuse you still”) and for our desire and ability to do good works after salvation (The strength to follow your commands/Could never come from me).
Christian hymnody contains many more good songs for Lenten services. I recently discovered a project called “New York Hymns: Songs For Lent,” which includes songs from worship leaders across the country. Download the mp3s and chord charts for free here. If you choose to “leave a tip,” proceeds go to Plywood People, which creates jobs for refugees in need of income.