Preacher friends, I have one final nudge for your homiletic muse as you look ahead to the Lenten season, one more idea for centering your sermon series this Lent: hymns.
(Already I’ve shared ideas for a sermon series centered around a painting series, the Revised Common Lectionary’s OT readings, the Narrative Lectionary’s Gospel readings, and two routes for a sermon series centered on prayer.)
The reasons for developing a sermon series on hymns are multiple (for me):
- Music, with or without text, can say what the soul has not yet found words to express; no matter the style of music, I’m convinced that we don’t spend enough time really listening to music in worship.
- That said, Lenten hymns are some dreary stuff. Dreary! Additionally, mainline white Protestants aren’t known for singing cross & blood songs with great enthusiasm, and that whole “bury the Alleluias ’til Easter” schtick — no matter how liturgically appropriate — jars my soul.
- The beauty and the tedium, the discomfort and the familiarity of hymns are precisely the reasons to dig a little deeper, look a little more intentionally, search a little harder through hymns for spiritual guidance and encouragement in Lent.
Any number of Lenten hymns work well for a sermon series. You can choose to preach on one hymn per week (be sure to include the hymn in worship for the congregation to sing too!) or study a single hymn across the whole of Lent. By way of an example, I’ll outline a Lenten sermon series on a single hymn:
Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim;
Let all adore and praise that sacred name.
G. W. Kitchin & M. R. Newbolt
(Hope Publishing Co. 1974)
The New Century Hymnal, Pilgrim Press (Cleveland 1995)
Lent 1/Verse 1: “Come, Christians, follow where our Savior trod…” The cross is lifted high like a lighthouse’s beam, like a tour guide’s flag or bull horn, leading the way through an unfamiliar place so that we can see the One we are following.
Lent 2/Verse 2: “Each newborn servant…bears the seal of Christ who died.” We lift high the cross to remember in humility that all life is marked by death; we contemplate Christ’s to make peace with our own.
Lent 3/Verse 3: “…your death has brought us life eternally.” Remember I said that hymns can challenge us to wrestle with theological discomfort rather than avoid it? Does one man’s death alter our chances of heaven or hell? Does God’s ability to die change how we live?
Lent 4/Verse 4: “Set up your throne that earth’s despair may cease…” Our hope is also our lament: the reign of God is but still it is not yet; in that intermediate space in which we live, too many crosses are being shouldered — imposed — especially upon the poor.
Lent 5/Verse 5: “…praise to the Crucified for victory.” In the penitential season of Lent, this verse restrains our habit of building victory for ourselves or claiming victory against one another, and instead calls for our praise to be founded upon Christ alone.
Lent 6/Chorus: “Lift high the cross…” Palms and passion meet in these words; the people parade together and mob together, lifting Jesus high first in exultation and then with ill will as adoration turns to fear, rejection and paranoia.
Easter/Chorus: “The love of Christ proclaim…” Regardless of your theology of the cross, this — the love of Christ — is the beginning and end of our faith. The love of Christ calls us to discipleship, to humanity, to lament, to justice, to humility, to repentance, to proclamation.
Blessings as you prepare for Lent, friends! Continue to follow my Monday Muse each week for new worship ideas in all seasons!