Easter and Eastertide

The Greg Scheer Music Podcast
The Greg Scheer Music Podcast
Easter and Eastertide
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SYNOPSIS: In the conclusion of his Lenten series, Greg shares song suggestions for Easter Day and Eastertide worship services.

EPISODE SECTIONS:

  • 0:30 – Introduction: Easter Day vs. Eastertide
  • 2:45 – Songs for Easter Day
  • 6:34 – Songs for Eastertide
  • 16:27 – Songs by Greg
  • 24:46 – Spoken word piece: “Real Good”

RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE:

TRANSCRIPT

Hello, friends. This is Greg Scheer with the Greg Scheer Music Podcast. And today we’re going to be talking about Easter and Eastertide. This is the last of our series about Lent and Holy Week and Easter planning, so today we’ll be talking about the Easter side of things.

“More…”

So first we have to start off with some definitions. We know what Easter is, and in this particular podcast I’m calling it a specific thing. I’m calling it Easter Day. Some people call it Resurrection Sunday, but this is the end of the three days in the tomb, Jesus rises, and this is the day that we celebrate that event. That is quite a time-bound event. You wake up in the morning, and you go to church, and this is the day that the Lord is risen. That is Easter Day. Eastertide, however, is a season. Sometimes it’s called Easter season. And much like Christmas and Christmastide there is the day, and then there is a season that follows it that continues the celebration. So Eastertide continues the resurrection celebration for seven weeks, and those seven weeks end with Pentecost. Of course, many churches on that final week, instead of celebrating Ascension in a midweek service, they celebrate it on the week before Pentecost, so you’re gonna need to the math for yourself.

So, I want to separate those two concepts, because I think it’s important for us to distinguish between the kinds of things that are just right for Easter Day, and the things that are right for the longer season of Eastertide. So the first thing I’ll say about Easter Day— we’ll start with Easter Day, and we’ll move to Eastertide in a minute. The first thing I’ll say about Easter Day, is, like I encourage you on all of the major holidays, let the people sing. This is not the time to bring out your fussy arrangements of “Christ the Lord Is Risen” in 5/4 played by a jazz band and la, da, da. No. That’s not the time for this. People show up to church, and they are eager to sing. So the best thing that you can do is just stay out of the way and let them sing. It’s actually quite a wonderful day because Christmas and Easter are two days when people really sing with gusto. So I would encourage you to, no matter what your church is like, generally speaking I think you want to lean toward the traditional, because that’s where the most well-known and best-loved repertoire is.

So let’s look at some of those, those kinds of songs. If you’re looking at more traditional hymns, this is not rocket science. You’ve got things like “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today,” “The Day of Resurrection.” You’ll notice that both of those have the word “day” in it. I find those very, very difficult to sing later in Easter because you sing, “Jesus Christ is risen today,” but he’s not actually risen today, he was risen last Sunday, I mean, liturgically speaking. So, “The Day of Resurrection,” “Thine Is the Glory.” If you want to kick it old school, “Up from the Grave He Arose.” Right? It’s not my favorite, but it’s a well-loved hymn, and I try to throw people a bone, that even if it’s not my favorite I try to make sure that everybody is feeling the love on Easter morning.

Another one is “The Strife Is O’er.” That’s not quite A-team material, you know, not as many people know it. I think it should be probably better known, but the song “The Strife Is O’er” is a great one. And if you go on my website you will find a Just Add People piano arrangement for that. So if you don’t have the huge pipe organ that really lends itself to singing those kinds of brilliant Easter songs, if you’re leading from the piano, you might find that that piano arrangement works pretty well for you.

On the contemporary side of things, you can, I think a big choice, frequent choice is the Gettys’ “See What a Morning,” and it’s a beautiful narrative of the resurrection. Another one is Phil Wickham’s “Living Hope,” and that is one that probably could be used throughout Eastertide as well, but it’s very good for Easter morning. Especially if you have blended or contemporary worship that would be a good choice for that, because it tells the story and it also talks about the personalization of it, of “I have a living hope because of Jesus’ resurrection.”

On the global side of things, my go-to move for the global songs for Easter would be “Christ Has Arisen, Alleluia.” It’s from Tanzania. I’m going to butcher the word, but it’s “Mfurahini, Haleluya.” Clearly I haven’t sung it many times in Tanzanian or whatever language it is. Forgive my ignorance on that. But “Christ Has Arisen, Alleluia.” I think it’s just a great song. It’s a global song that sings really well no matter what your congregation is. Even if they don’t frequently do global music, this one, I think it first appeared in a Lutheran hymnal. And, you know, the Lutherans, they’re singing people, and they can choose a good song that will fit in their generally more traditional congregations. So that one’s one that can work in a traditional setting, or you can add drums to it. It’s just beautiful. Another one is the Zimbabwe “Alleluia”— [Greg sings] “Alleluia, alleluia. Alleluia, alleluia.” Super super easy. I have led that for years. That’s the melody that I just sang, and then there are three other parts that are very easy to teach to a congregation, especially if they’re good singers. Bring some drums in, possibly put it in medley with another song. That’s gold right there.

Now, let’s look at Eastertide. By the way, I would love feedback. If you have some songs, especially I’m thinking about contemporary Easter Day songs. I just had two examples; it’s not a real strong part of my repertoire. So I would love to hear some of your examples for some of those contemporary songs that fit really well on Easter.

But that’s Easter Day. Let’s move to Eastertide. So these are those seven weeks before Pentecost. The basic problem of Eastertide in terms of music planning is that you have so many songs that tell the story of Jesus’ resurrection in the moment, right? “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today,” or “See What a Morning” tells the dramatic story of Jesus rising. It feels, to me, less and less appropriate the further you move away from Easter, from Easter Day. And so what we really want to find for Eastertide is songs that really unpack the meaning of the resurrection. So instead of telling the story and saying, “Yay! Jesus is risen,” Eastertide in my mind answers the question, “Jesus is risen— now what?” Okay, so there’s a lot of songs that do deal with that, but not probably quite as thick of a repertoire as we have for Easter Day.

So one that I like on the traditional side of things is “Christ Is Alive.” That’s Brian Wren’s song— “Christ is alive, let Christians sing.” And what I like about this song is that it looks open-eyed at the problems of the world and says, basically, “Christ is alive, and therefore things are going to start changing. Therefore we can have hope that the injustices we see in the world will be healed.” Et cetera. So it really talks about what does the resurrection mean for us moving forward. Another one is “I Know that My Redeemer Lives,” and once again, this is, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and therefore I know that I have a surety in my salvation.” That’s the kind of message of that song.

Other choices, basically any “alleluia” is appropriate for Eastertide, and for Easter. You know that some, we talked about this earlier. Some churches, they hide the alleluia during Lent. They literally do not sing the word “alleluia” or say the word “alleluia” all of Lent. So then their Sunday morning worship is even more joyous because they finally get to say the word “alleluia.” Now, I’ve never worked in a church that does that, but you get the idea. It’s a little odd to be singing lots of jubilant “alleluias” during Lent. So now this is the time to really just let those “alleliuas” fly. “Alleluia” is a word of joy, okay, and so we can really go through Eastertide with that. Some that you might know, the Celtic “Alleluia,” that’s a good one. Taizé, the Taizé community in France has one. It’s actually in a minor key which is a little bit odd for an “alleluia.” That’s a nice one. But any “alleluia” is appropriate during Eastertide.

Also appropriate during Eastertide would be kind of generally themed songs about new life, about spring, and about renewal. All of those are themes that go with the resurrection. Because Jesus died and rose again, healing starts to come to the earth. Salvation is worked. Not only do we have new life in the sense of being born again in Christ, but it’s also the whole world is being redeemed.

So, some songs that I think are good for that. One that I really like is “Now the Green Blade Rises.” You’ll recognize the tune of “Sing We Now of Christmas.” That tune, and it’s a beautiful imagery of the green blade, the blade, the leaf of the plant is breaking through the cold ground, and it’s starting to emerge. It’s a spring image and it also is an image of Christ emerging from the tomb, and then all the new life that that brings. It’s a beautiful option. Another one would be “Morning Has Broken.” Now this, “Morning Has Broken” is a song that can be sung throughout the year, especially as an opening song in a morning service. But “Morning Has Broken” is really talking about, one of the lines is “God’s re-creation of” I can’t remember the next line, but any case. It’s talking about that re-creation that Christ’s resurrection works.

“How Can I Keep from Singing?” That’s a great one. It talks about the troubles of life, but “If Christ is Lord of all the earth how can I keep from singing?” Both “Morning Has Broken” and “How Can I Keep from Singing?” I’ve got Just Add People arrangements of those, really nice piano arrangements that you can do with your church. So I’d love it if you would download those and use them in your churches, ’cause that’s why I wrote them. If you have pianists who don’t do great improvising their own arrangements, this is a way to give them some music that will make them sound like a million bucks, even though they’re not comfortable with making up those things themselves.

What do we have next for Eastertide? Some contemporary songs that would be good for Eastertide: “Before the Throne of God Above.” That is a song about our salvation resting entirely in Christ, and it talks about this, maybe a little bit moving more towards Ascension, but this idea that Jesus resides in heaven advocating on our behalf. But this, the basic idea is, for Eastertide an important theme is Jesus as high priest. He is the one that does that work for us. He is both the one that offers the sacrifice and the sacrifice. So any songs that talk about that. “Before the Throne of God,” another one would be “There Is a Redeemer.” Both of those are oldies but goodies. They still sing really well, I think.

Some global songs that you might want to look at. One of my favorites is “Holy Gift of Love.” It’s from Mongolia, and it first appeared in a collection I edited called Global Songs for Worship. It’s a Mongolian song, but it has some pop influences to it. And I actually sing this song quite a bit during Lent, too, because it says, “The proof of Jesus’ love is printed in his palms,” and it talks about the sacrifice of Jesus. But it’s a very soaring kind of song, so during Lent it feels very emotional, and the pathos of the crucifixion, but then during Easter it reminds us of the sacrifice that has been made on our behalf. So I love that one, “Holy Gift of Love” from Mongolia. There’s a Latin song called “Oh How Good Is Christ the Lord.” It’s a good one; it’s not my go-to. [Greg sings.] It’s got that rhythm to it, and it’s short, so I often, because it’s just kind of a little bon-bon of a song, a corito, I often will put that together with another song, just to give it a little bit more play in the service. I’ll often put it in medley with another song that’s in the key of D.

Blood songs are appropriate during Easter. And of course they’re always appropriate at Communion. But I’m thinking, for example, of the African-American “O the Blood of Jesus,” and I have an arrangement of this one. It’s a Just Add People arrangement that has kind of a Gospel feel to it. I know when I look in a hymnal and I see the music for “O the Blood of Jesus,” it just, if you play it exactly as it is on the page, it just sounds wooden. So this arrangement, then, can bring a little more life to it. So “O the Blood of Jesus” is a great one, just celebrating the sacrifice that’s been made for us throughout the whole of Eastertide.

And then finally I’ll recommend one of my favorite songs, really, favorite congregational songs of all time, “Kwake Yesu.” It’s “Here on Jesus Christ I will stand,” and it’s actually, it’s a Kenyan reworking of “On Christ the Solid Rock,” and it’s really kind of an interesting story how it. . . Missionaries brought it to Kenya, and then the Kenyans put new music to it, and then it came back to us as really an entirely new thing. “Kwake Yesu” is a beautiful song, and it’s just talking about building our faith on Jesus Christ, the centrality of Jesus Christ. You can find that in a number of hymnals, and you can also find my arrangement of that at GIA, giamusic.com, look up my name and “Kwake Yesu,” and I have a nice choral arrangement of that.

Some other songs. . . I’ve written a number of songs that I think really work quite well during Eastertide. One is an oldie but goodie. It’s one of the earliest congregational songs that I wrote, and it’s called “Let His Name Be Lifted Up.” And just for fun I’m going to play that for you. You’re going to hear a 27-year old Greg singing this song. Let’s take a listen.

1. Let his name be lifted up,
just as he was lifted up.
The power of the cross
has conquered our loss.
Let his name be lifted up.

Let his name be lifted up.
Let his name be lifted up.
Let his name be lifted,
let his name be lifted up.

2. He has paid our debt for us.
He has paid our debt for us.
He was buried within
by the weight of our sin.
He has paid our debt for us.

3. He has risen from the grave.
He has risen from the grave.
He has triumphed over death
so that we too would live.
He has risen from the grave.

4. He will come again for us.
He will come again for us.
The trumpet will sound;
he’ll descend from the clouds.
He will come again for us.

So that is “Let His Name Be Lifted Up.” On my website you can find that one with a really nice piano arrangement that has the modulation that you heard in the recording. The flute part that you heard in the recording is also available, and four parts for choir, or for congregation if you want to, are also available.

“Jesus Lives and So Shall I”— this is like, I think, the quintessential Eastertide song. “Jesus Lives and So Shall I,” so it’s basically saying that the result of the resurrection is that I have new life as well. So, there’s a traditional hymn called “Jesus Lives and So Shall I,” and my song that I wrote based on this started as, kind of as a riff on that song, but then it just kind of moved to different areas. But it’s really talking about that whole thing. The work is entirely done in Christ. We rely entirely on the work of Christ. It is in kind of a praise and worship style. You could imagine Chris Tomlin doing it. Of course if Chris Tomlin did it, we would have to modulate it up by about a fourth or a fifth.

1. Jesus lives, and so shall I.
The sting of death is gone forever.
Jesus lives— the One who died
the bands of death to sever.
God has raised me from the dust:
Jesus is my hope and trust.

2. Jesus lives! My soul revived
when Jesus called. I was awakened
from my sleep to glorious light;
the shroud of death He’s shaken.
From the grave God raised me up:
Jesus is my hope and trust.

Another one that I wrote is called “O Risen Christ, Our Living Hope.” This is kind of a Getty-style song. I mean, the Gettys are kind of known for a particular style, and this is in that style, so mostly diatonic and multiple verses, et cetera. You know the Getty style. I don’t have to tell you about that.

And if you want to go really far afield, here’s one for you: “You Are the Resurrection.” This is a song I wrote for an international project called Red Crearte. I might have gotten that wrong, but in any case we were all asked to write a song based on a text, or kind of a starter text. So I wrote a song called “You Are the Resurrection.” And the fun thing is that it’s in a bossa nova style. It’s very very groovy. And if you go to the website you will be able to download the music. But not only that, but you will be able to see me and my children dancing to the song. Who wouldn’t want that? Right? So go on over to the website and see “You Are the Resurrection.”

So those are lots of options for Easter Day and Eastertide. Hopefully you have a little bit of a sense of the difference between those two and the kinds of themes that you can be teasing out throughout Eastertide.

I’m going to leave you with a song, kind of an avant-garde. This is not a congregational song, but I just, as I was preparing this podcast I came across it, and I said, “I’m gonna share this.” So it is kind of a spoken word piece. Amy Phillips did the spoken word part. It’s based on her grandfather’s struggle with Alzheimer’s, and Scripture from 1 Corinthians 15, that’s talking about the resurrected body and what would that look like. And I did the kind of, I call it “soundscape.” It’s not exactly a composition but it’s more of a soundscape. So I’m going to end with that piece. Rather than the traditional outro music I’m going to leave you with that.

Thank you so much for being here for this podcast. I look forward to meeting you again on future podcasts. And, as I said, we will end with “Real Good.”

Lent: Maundy Thursday and Good Friday

The Greg Scheer Music Podcast
The Greg Scheer Music Podcast
Lent: Maundy Thursday and Good Friday
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SYNOPSIS: Greg talks about service elements and song suggestions for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services. 

EPISODE SECTIONS:

  • 0:24 – Story: Bellefield Presbyterian and “Ah, Holy Jesus”
  • 3:40 – Maundy Thursday: Upper Room service
  • 12:47 – Maundy Thursday: Communion elements
  • 15:40 – Maundy Thursday: Tenebrae
  • 22:15 – Good Friday: focus on crucifixion

RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE:

TRANSCRIPT

Hello, friends. This is Greg Scheer with the Greg Scheer Music Podcast, and in this episode we’re going to be focusing on Holy Week, more specifically, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. But first, a little story:

“More…”

When I was a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, I attended a church called Bellefield Presbyterian Church. It was right there on the campus of Pitt. And at the time I didn’t do anything with worship, really. I wasn’t involved with worship; I was involved in composition, and I didn’t know anything about the church year or liturgical year or anything like that. But they had a service on the Thursday before Easter, and it was a Maundy Thursday service. And I wondered, “Why do they call it a Monday Thursday?” But then I realized it was actually Maundy Thursday. In any case, I went to this service, and it was a very moving service for me, and really kind of a pivotal thing in my walk of faith.

I don’t know what it was about that service, but it just really impressed upon me the weight of Christ’s work on the cross, and that this was done for me, and, yeah, it just, it was. .  . I don’t know exactly why, but I remember this: We sang the hymn “Ah, Holy Jesus,” which since then has become one of my favorites, and I was so smitten with that hymn that I went home with a bulletin in my hand, and I was gonna be playing an open mic night later that night with me on guitar and a violinist accompanying me. And I was so smitten with that hymn, that I actually went home and I transcribed some new chords for it and a violin line, and I showed it to the violinist as we got to the bar, and I was like, “We’re going to play this song!” And she was actually English and so she grew up with hymns like this and kind of knew it, and it was so great. 

We were, I mean, it was a bar, and I got up to play, I can’t remember, I played something that I had written and then I played that one. And I just remember people in the bar kind of looking at me like, “What? What is this about? He’s singing about Jesus, and Jesus suffering.” And I don’t know if they thought it was super cool or just completely out of place. But, in any case, that’s just to give you an idea of how powerful this time of the church year can be. And, if it was powerful in my life like that, you have to be thinking that there are people in your church that this can also be a really pivotal time for them. And so the things I’m just going to start off by just emphasizing, I think, the most important things about services like this.

Tell the story. You know, our impulse is to get all flowery and do all sorts of amazing things, and, you know, things that we can tell other worship directors about and they’ll think we’re super cool. But just, stick to the story. Let Scripture speak for itself. Use lots of Scripture. This, Scriptures that are used during this time of year are so powerful in and of themselves that you really don’t need to do a whole lot with them. So just really, really let the Scripture speak. Let the story speak, and let it inform people’s faith, the people that are in the pews. Let that just do its work.

All right, now on to our subject at hand. We’re talking about Thursday and Friday together because many churches don’t have, they either have one service or the other service. So in a very liturgical church, you will have a special service for each night of the week, or day of the week, I’m not sure, of Holy Week. But most Protestant churches if they are somewhat liturgical, they will usually have either a Maundy Thursday service or a Good Friday service. Now, some will have both Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and we’re going to help tease that out a little bit. But I’m talking about this in the same podcast because I think that many of the same themes, there’s a lot of overlap between the two days, and so many of the themes will be carried over, depending on which one you do.

So, without further ado, let’s look at Maundy Thursday. There are really two directions that you can take with a Maundy Thursday service. One is the upper room, so that’s actually where we get the word “Maundy” Thursday, is it’s from the Latin. I can’t remember right now exactly what it is, but it’s from the Latin where Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you: to love one another.” So that’s where we get the word, and that’s the service of the upper room. It’s the kinds of things that happen at the Last Supper. And then the other direction you can take, is what’s called a Tenebrae service. And we’ll get to that one later. Let’s start with the upper room.

So the service of the upper room is really what I would call the Last Supper and the first Communion. So this is where the disciples gather together and Jesus has his last words with them. They eat for the last time, and it’s what institutes our modern Communion. So there are just lots of rich overtones going on in this story and in this service. So if you’re going to do a strictly speaking upper room type of service, there are lots of things that are very particular to that. Of course it’s going to culminate in Communion, but let’s get there later.

Let’s start with the gathering, the opening kinds of things. So I’m just going to give you a couple ideas about songs that would work for this, cause this is a service that is a very, very specific service, and so it’s a chance to use some very specific songs, rather than just straight-up Communion hymns. So, one that’s really quite nice is “Come, Risen Lord, and Deign to Be Our Guest.” It’s really quite a beautiful hymn tune, not often used, except on Maundy Thursday services. The tune is very easy to learn. It says, “Come, risen Lord, and deign to be our guest. Know we are your guest. . .” I can’t remember how all the words go. But it basically says, “We gather together, but you are really the host.” And it’s a great text.

Another one, if you want to get even further off the beaten path, is a Filipino song, and it’s called “When Twilight Comes,” and it’s just such a beautiful song. I love this song. Now, it’s quite a hard melody, so what I have done before is I have sung it as a solo just accompanied by the guitar, and it sets a really nice tone. And what it does is just, one service earlier, Jesus has looked over Jerusalem and said, “Oh, I’ve wept for you and I want to gather you like a chick to the mother hen.” And it continues that kind of image here, and it says, the lyrics say,

When twilight comes and the sun sets,
mother hen prepares for night’s rest.
As her brood shelters under her wings,
she gives the love of God to her nest.
Oh, what joy to feel her warm heartbeat
and be near her all night long!
So the young can find repose
and then renew tomorrow’s song.

And then it goes on to say, basically, “Gather around, friends. We’re gathering around Jesus for this last time, this evening meal.” And I think it’s a great song for a number of reasons. One, it’s just simply a beautiful song with very vivid imagery. Another, is it takes a biblical image for God that is very motherly. So there’s lots of conversations about language for God, and should we use gendered language for God, and all those kinds of things, but I think, in those conversations, the first step is to reclaim as much language as we have right there in the Bible. And in this particular case, we have images for God as a mother hen. So this is a great way to reclaim some of those more motherly types of images in our worship services.

So, once we go from the opening, there are all sorts of things you can do, but one of the things, because, at the Last Supper, Jesus washes the disciples’ feet, a foot-washing is often part of that service. Now, this of course, at least in American culture, can be quite a problematic thing. People feel very squeamish about their feet, some people are very ticklish about their feet. So it’s, kind of, you have to figure out what you want to do with that. What I have done in that past, or what churches I have been in have done in the past, is often the pastor will wash the feet of someone, perhaps a child, perhaps a elder in the church, or something to that effect. Something that you’ve figured out ahead of time that this person would be okay with it, and it just shows this idea of the greatest among them is stooping to serve the others, just like Jesus did. So you can decide if you want to that, or if you want to do an actual foot-washing service, like some denominations do, where everybody washes everybody else’s feet. But regardless of how you do that, that, generally speaking, is part of the service.

And there are lots of kinds of, not specifically foot-washing, but servant type songs. So I’m thinking about Twila Paris’s “How Beautiful.” You know, it’s an oldie but it’s a goodie, and this is a time of year when you can actually use that song appropriately for the foot-washing. Another, some other ones that just talk really more about our servanthood to each other, one would be “The Servant Song,” which is “Brother, let me be your servant. . .” So this is, just basically, “Let me be your servant; you can be my servant, too.” And that we serve each other in the body of Christ.

Another one is from Africa, I can’t remember where in Africa, but “Jesu, Jesu, Fill Us with Your Love.” A little bit more upbeat than you might want for a service like this, but it could work. It happens to be my pastor’s least favorite song, so we really never do this at my church, but I kind of give him a pass on that. I feel like it’s giving every child a vegetable they don’t like. I think every pastor and every music director should have at least one song that they say, “No, I’m never going to sing that one.” Another one that works really well comes from the Taizé community: “Ubi Caritas,” which means “Live in Charity,” and there are texts in both Latin and in English, but it’s very easy to sing in Latin if you’ve never sung that. But it just says, “Live in charity and steadfast love.” It’s a really great song to sing. It’s very meditative and talks about our love for one another.

Another song that you could do. This is not so much in the foot-washing realm of things, but it’s a song called “Jesus, Greatest at the Table.” No, I’m sorry, it is a foot-washing song. It’s called “Jesus, Greatest at the Table,” and it talks about how he was the most important person at the table, and yet he still served others. That text is by Steven Starke, and it appears in some hymnals, not too many hymnals, but some. So you can look that up, for example, on hymnary.org and see if there is a tune that you like that would work for your congregation. I would also suggest that you would check out on my website, where I have a tune called TABLE GREATS, that’s the name of the tune, kind of play on “table greats,” but also “table grace”— you see what I did there? Oh, yes. So, anyways, that’s a nice tune that you could do. And once again, this is a special service, and so it seems to me fairly appropriate that you have a certain amount of solo music that is sung for the congregation, cause they’re only going to hear these things once a year. So, to do a song like that, I think is very appropriate.

All right, so what else happens at a service of the upper room? Well, of course, Communion needs to be part of this, because that’s what the, this was the Last Supper, this is what culminated for the disciples and Jesus, is this meal that they shared together. So it makes complete sense that you would have a Communion service, or Communion as part of this service. You might want to have overtones of the Seder meal, because that would have been what Jesus was celebrating with his disciples. You may what to sing the Hallel Psalms, Psalm 115 to 118, I believe, because that’s presumed to be what Jesus sang when it says, “After they sang a hymn, they went out.” It was presumed that it would have been one of those songs, because that’s the Psalms that they sang during this meal.

I have also, at a former church I did a service that I really liked a lot. It was the Liturgy of the Upper Room. So we would gather, actually, in the fellowship hall. And it was a nice service because it felt different, right? Instead of being in the kind of worship space that you’re used to, you’re in the eating space. Okay, so it already has this very built-in meal and fellowship-like character to it. And so what we would do, is we would have a service where we would sit around tables, just like you would at dinner, and we would have like six to eight people at a table. And there were a number of really interesting things about this. It was all based on Scripture, and you can download this at my website. Almost all based on Scripture, and one of the things that happened toward the end of the meal when we had Communion, is we had the echoes of the Seder where the child asks, “Why do we do this?” And then the adult answers, “Well, we do this because it means this.” 

And, so that dialogue back and forth, instead of giving that to a liturgist up front, it was done at the table. And so we had little placards on each table, and they would say that the, you know, look into the worship order because there’s going to be reading parts for the oldest person at the table and the youngest reader at the table. And so it was really quite sweet, you’d have this table, and you might have a 50-year-old, but you might have a 90-year-old, and they would be talking with someone who is, you know, young enough to be very young, but also old enough to read. And it’s just a very, very sweet thing, and you’d just hear the murmur all around as they go through this liturgy before the Communion. You hear this murmur all around the room of people reading these things back and forth. It was really a sweet service, and you can get that online and read more carefully about that.

So that’s, that’s some basic ideas, some ways to get you started on a Maundy Thursday service that focuses on the upper room. Now, let’s look at a Tenebrae service. A Tenebrae service, I don’t even know what “Tenebrae” means, to tell you the truth. But in a liturgical sense, a Tenebrae service is a service of the deepening of the shadows. So this is not the seven last words of Jesus, but these are kind of the seven last scenes of Jesus’ life. This is when he says, “Someone will betray me.” And then, then the disciples fall asleep while he’s praying. You know, it’s these scenes, and then slowly it goes to the judgment hall before Pilate, all of those kinds of things. So basically, what we see is Jesus, his life is unraveling, you know, before our eyes, we see. . . His life is not unraveling, because he’s Jesus, but what we see is that everything is just going south. His disciples are leaving him, he is being tried for things that he didn’t do, that he was innocent of, and Jesus knows the outcome of this, is that it’s going to be a crucifixion. We don’t know that yet in the story.

So, what the service of Tenebrae is about, is it’s a service of shadows and darkness. So many churches, what they will do, is they will start with the sanctuary really quite dark, as dark as you can make it and still have people able to read what they need to read. So, the sanctuary is quite dark and somber, typically there’s not a lot of music, people might enter in silence and leave in silence. Some churches will cover the Communion table in a black cloth. Others will drape the cross in a black cloth. And, the guts of the service are these seven readings that I talked about, the betrayal, desertion, and all those. And, usually what you have, you might have seven readers, but you might have just one reader. And typically you’ll have seven candles up front, and after each reading, one candle is snuffed out. After the next one, the next candle is snuffed out until all of the candles are snuffed out and the sanctuary is left in darkness. 

And, between these readings and the candles going out, silence is very appropriate, and it’s just amazing how this builds, it builds this tension throughout the service, where you hear this scene from Jesus’ final moments on earth, and then there’s just this dead silence. You hear the candle snuffer being picked up, and the candle going out, and the candle snuffer going down again. And it’s really quite dramatic. One thing I’ve done, and this is probably not in anybody’s wheelhouse, but I wrote a piece called “The Shadows,” and it’s for seven cellos. And so then, I had a musical meditation between each of the readings, and it’s a very dramatic, biting kind of piece with lots of really dissonant harmonies. And so that was really good, a good service with that. You can email me if you’re interested in that, but I doubt many people have seven cellos. I just happened to have those one year so I wrote something for them.

Sometimes the Tenebrae service is ended by people stripping the altar of all of the, you know, the cross, the Bible, all those kinds of things, so it’s completely barren. Other churches will do, maybe a bell tolling, some will do a hammer for the nails of the cross, or some kind of sound like that, like sealing the tomb or nailing the cross. So, once again, it’s a very dramatic kind of service, and one of the things that I like about the service beyond the fact that it’s so powerful, is, as a worship leader, it’s actually quite simple. Once again, you let the Scripture tell the story. You don’t have to make stuff up, you don’t really even need a sermon in that service, right? So instead of doing a lot of talking, a lot of singing, a lot of explaining, you just simply let people sit with the words of Scripture and with silence, and they can kind of feel those words of Scripture echoing in the silence.

Some possibilities for songs, cause you probably will sing some music. One of my all-time favorites is a hymn called “O Come and Mourn.” And I love to start a service like this, either a Maundy Thursday service, a Tenebrae service, or Good Friday service with “O Come and Mourn.” Because it’s, the hymn says, “O come and mourn with me awhile, O hasten to the Savior’s side.” And it’s basically just calling people to worship, but also to mourn as they see what Jesus suffers. Beautiful song.

Another one, which is just a little bit more common, is “Go to Dark Gethsemane,” and especially those opening two, maybe three services.

Go to dark Gethsemane,
those who feel the tempter’s power.
Wait with him, watch with him.

It kind of refers to the disciples leaving him during prayer. There’s lots of overtones of the Scriptures that would be read in that, “Go to Dark Gethsemane.”

A song that works well for the close of this, because we’ve heard the Scripture where Jesus says, “Stay with me. I’m going to be praying. Stay with me and pray with me.” And there’s a Taizé song called “Stay with Me,” which is just a wonderful, meditative song, and there’s a kind of a double meaning to it in a sense, when you use it liturgically. Because it’s the words of Jesus, saying “Stay with me and keep watch with me,” but it’s also saying, “Stay close to Jesus during these next few days, as Jesus suffers and as you go through the tomb and into the resurrection. Stay close to Jesus.”

So those are some ideas for Maundy Thursday. And now I’ll go to Good Friday and the kinds of materials you might want to use in Good Friday. So, Good Friday, properly speaking, is a focus on the resurrection. [Greg meant to say crucifixion.] And, once again, many people will essentially do a Good Friday service on Thursday, because it’s, whatever, it’s more convenient to do it at that time, and those kinds of things. And I think that’s fine; I wouldn’t call the liturgical police on you. But, the Good Friday service, is really focused specifically on the crucifixion. 

And I think one of the dangers, the temptations in a service like this, is to make this service, try to overdramaticize it, I’m not sure if that’s the right word. But basically, take this posture of “Jesus died, and YOU killed him. Think about that! Think about your sins and how you killed Jesus, and he was on the cross, looking at YOU, thinking about YOUR SINS!” Right? I don’t know that we need to do that much brow-beating in a service like this, for a number of reasons. One is, I think that we want to, in a worship service that is a corporate worship service, we want to think more corporately about things rather than individually. I’m not a huge fan of “Jesus was on the cross and he was just thinking of you.” That, to me, seems a little bit too personal. He was thinking about a lot of people, and he was thinking about the new creation, and all of those kinds of things, right? He was thinking about the big picture. I mean, I can’t tell you exactly what he was thinking about, but, in other words, I don’t think it was as narrow as “he was thinking about you.” 

So I think we don’t want to overemphasize that part of it. And I think really what we want to do instead is we simply want to tell the story. We don’t need to, you know, kind of point the finger at people, and try to get them whipped up to find themselves in the story. Because if you just let Scripture speak, they will find themselves in the story. They will feel the weight of their sin. They will feel the depth of Jesus’ love in a service like this. So, I encourage you just to simply tell the story. One of the ways that a lot of churches do that is with a service of the Seven Last Words. So these are the words like, “I thirst,” and there are seven phrases that Jesus says as he goes to his crucifixion, as he goes to his death. So, in a service like this, the opening could, once again, thinking of musical ideas, the opening could be “Go to Dark Gethsemane,” so that would be a good possibility. You could do another cross song, like “Beneath the Cross of Jesus,” or the Getty/Townend “O to See the Dawn (The Power of the Cross.” So anything that’s cross-focused is really quite good, especially if it’s a cross-focused song that says, basically, “Come to the cross and kneel, and ponder the depth of Jesus’ love as he bears your sins on the cross.”

As I said, people often use Seven Last Words to shape the service, and in the same way as the Tenebrae service, it creates a simple format that is also very powerful. These Seven Last Words can also be very powerful. You might want to do the readings, and the contextual readings around those Seven Last Words. You may want to have the preacher do, just little tiny vignettes, break a sermon into seven parts, and just do two, three minutes of reflection on each one of those words. Or you might just want to read it and sing a song, read it and sing a song.

Some ones that work— Oh, and I should say this. A couple years ago, at my church, I, we had a series of Jesus’ Seven Last Words, that was the Lent series. Each week we would focus on one. And so I was writing a new song for each of those Last Words. And it was actually when Covid hit, and so suddenly, you know, all of us were scrambling, trying to figure out what to do, you know. And so we took the service online, and the pastor and I, he read those Scriptures and then I sang the song. And it was nice, ‘cause it was a recap of the whole series that we had done, and all seven songs that I had composed. It was also a recap of the content of those seven sermons that he had preached. And so it made a really good simple service, and because of Covid, just the two of us sat there on the stage. He would read the Scripture, do a short meditation, I would sing a song. And just back and forth like that. It was really nice. And I’ll post a link to that underneath the podcast description.

Some songs that work quite well for this service, one would be Taizé’s “Jesus, Remember Me.” I really like this one. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” It’s the words of the thief on the cross, and so it’s, once again, the music here is taking Scripture, just letting the words of Scripture speak.

There’s a wonderful song called “Ah, Holy Jesus.” And this is the one I mentioned early in the podcast. And it just talks about, “You weren’t the guilty one. I was the guilty one, but you took the punishment for my sin.” I have an arrangement of that for piano to accompany congregational singing, and it just kind of puts a little bit more movement than the hymnal does. It’s kind of a nice arrangement, I think.

Another one would be “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded.” That’s a classic crucifixion song, talking about the suffering of Jesus, and just kind of pondering the suffering of Jesus. Once again I have some materials for that. I have some descants that work really well with that. And so, I have in the past, had the organ or the piano just play what’s in the hymnal, and then have, maybe a flute and a clarinet play those double descants that I wrote, and use that as a prelude. And then come back later and sing the song as a congregational song. So that’s also on my website. There’ll be a link to that.

For the end of the service, you know, this is a very desolate service. We end with Jesus in the tomb. Once again, we know what the end of this, we know what the outcome of this will be. We know that there is resurrection in this, but, in the drama of the story, no one knows that. So it’s really quite a dramatic moment where it’s just very desolate. And so, there are some songs that might be appropriate for that. “What Wondrous Love Is This” is a good one, because it’s pondering the love of Jesus. And it’s also ends on a note of praise, that song. I’ve got an arrangement of that, a Just Add People arrangement, and I’ve also got a string arrangement of that one, if you were to sing that one. “Were You There?” is another one, and this is a classic time to use that. I had a friend who played euphonium, and he told me, “I’ve always fantasized about ending a service, it ends in complete silence, and I’m in the balcony with my euphonium. And then out of the silence I begin playing ‘Were You There?’ and then people leave.” And it’s actually really a great idea, and that’s the kind of feel that you want in that Good Friday service.

People are mixed about whether they want to leave that service in complete desolation, or if they want to have some kind of resurrection hope. This usually comes to a point when they talk about the Christ candle. Do you let the Christ candle burn from Good Friday to Easter morning, or do you snuff it out at the end of the Maundy Thursday service or at the end of the Good Friday service to signify the light of Christ being extinguished. And of course that’s for you to decide. But for now I think you have enough to contemplate, and I hope that from the things that we’ve discussed in the podcast, from the resources that are listed in the podcast notes, I hope you find something here that kind of sparks your imagination and gives you the resources that you need to plan out these services well.

So, I wish you happy planning for those services. I welcome your feedback or your questions. I would be glad to have a conversation about any of these materials or any questions that you have about this.

This has been the Greg Scheer Music Podcast, with your host, Greg Scheer, and I hope to see you in future episodes.

Lent: Palm/Passion Sunday

The Greg Scheer Music Podcast
The Greg Scheer Music Podcast
Lent: Palm/Passion Sunday
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SYNOPSIS: Greg discusses possibilities for Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday services, and why your church might choose one or the other. 

EPISODE SECTIONS: 

  • 0:32 – Two liturgical directions for the Sunday before Easter
  • 3:20 – Palm Sunday: traditional choices
  • 7:13 – Palm Sunday: newer and global songs
  • 14:57 – Options for medleys
  • 17:36 – Passion Sunday: Psalm 31, Psalm 118
  • 21:29 – Passion reading from Matthew

RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE: 

TRANSCRIPT

Hello, friends. This is Greg Scheer for the Greg Scheer Music Podcast. We’re going to continue our series that we started previously about Lent. We’re going to continue that with a series on Holy Week. And, of course, Holy Week starts with Palm Sunday. That is the week before Easter.

“More…”

Now, when we talk about Palm Sunday we have to start right off the bat by talking about how awkward Palm Sunday is, liturgically speaking. So we’ve been in Lent, which is this somber time of self-reflection and extraordinary devotion, and we are moving into Good Friday and Maundy Thursday and the crucifixion of Jesus, so, obviously the very lowest point of the liturgical year. And right in the middle of all of this valley is this happy blip on the screen, where the children process with palm branches and we sing happy songs and all those kinds of things. And the other awkward thing about Palm Sunday is that we know, because we’re looking back on the story, we know that this procession is going to be very fickle, that the same crowds that were lauding Jesus on Palm Sunday, on his triumphal entry, those same people would be crying, “Crucify him!” a week later. And so, whereas the people in the original Palm Sunday didn’t have that perspective, we have that perspective. And it creates this kind of strange underbelly to whatever we do, whatever celebration that we have.

And, so how do we deal with this issue? I guess if you’re not a liturgical congregation, you don’t celebrate Lent, then you can basically treat Palm Sunday like a mini Easter. We have kind of a warm-up celebration to the big celebration of Easter. And I guess that that’s fine, but I think that that’s missing some richness that is there.

So, let’s think about this. The two directions that we can take on Palm Sunday, or on that, I should say, that Sunday a week before Easter. We can either go the direction of Palm Sunday, or we can go the direction of Passion Sunday. So if you look into liturgical resources, you’ll see that there are actually two routes that you can take. The one is Palm Sunday, where we really emphasize the triumphal entry and the joy, and all of those kinds of things. The other is Passion Sunday, which feels like a foreshadowing of what we’ll experience later in the week during the low points of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. My friend Deb Rienstra has written about this. She has an article online called “The Problem with Palms,” and it really outlines kind of this weirdness of Palm Sunday well. I’ll have the link in the description below this podcast.

So let’s start by looking at what we can do for a Palm Sunday celebration. So, if we’re going to celebrate Palm Sunday, and, you know, if you are in a normal congregation, I don’t think that you’re really going to get away with saying, “Okay, kids, you don’t get your palms this year. We’re celebrating Passion Sunday. Now sit down and be quiet and somber.” It’s probably going to be unrealistic in most congregations. So what I often recommend is actually that we start with a Palm Sunday celebration, and then shift toward a Passion Sunday type of feel. But we’ll get to that later.

So for a Palm Sunday celebration, obviously you want hosannas of all types. If you type into hymnary.org, “hosanna,” you’re going to get lots and lots of songs. Some of them are specifically for Palm Sunday. Some of them just say “hosanna.” So, for example, the Hillsong, “I See the King of Glory.” That’s one that its chorus is one— “I see the king of glory. . .” And then the chorus goes, “Hosanna, hosanna.” So even though it’s not specifically about Palm Sunday, that one is one that could work on Palm Sunday. 

Another one of course, is the tune “Ride On, Ride On in Majesty.” Now, one of the things that I like about this hymn, is that it gets a little bit at the pomp of the moment, but the foreshadowing of the passion. So it says, “Ride on, ride on in majesty, in lowly. . . ride on to die,” is what it says. It’s basically saying that this is the journey, that Jesus knows about it, and then that we know about in retrospect. So that’s a great text, a great hymn text. One of the problems with that song, I think, is that there are not a lot of great tunes that go with it. So there’s ST. DROSTANE, which is very triumphant, so very march-like, and those kinds of things. So it doesn’t really support the passion sides of that hymn text. There’s also WINCHESTER NEW, which is actually quite similar to the previous one, and it’s kind of an unremarkable tune. I think that the person who wrote it is dead, so I can say that and not feel like I’m hurting anybody’s feelings. 

Here are some ideas for tunes that might be, that you might not think about matching to that text, but I think work quite well. There’s a tune called DEO GRACIAS, which has a lot of gravitas to it. It’s a minor key, it’s the one that goes [Greg sings] “Ride on, ride on in majesty, in lowly. . . ride on to die.” So it’s kind of a medieval-sounding tune. Another one that I really like is called THE KING’S MAJESTY. It’s by someone named Graham George, and it’s a very dramatic minor melody. It feels like it was written by Ralph Vaughan Williams. And I believe that it actually comes from a movie, because it’s, the copyright is credited to Columbia Pictures. So someone can write in and give me all the details on that. But it’s very dramatic, very cinematic. So those are some ideas with “Ride On, Ride On.”

Let’s see, some other things that you could do, if we want to start branching out from the center. I mean, I don’t need to tell you about “All Glory, Laud, and Honor” and those kinds of things. You know all of those songs. But, so let’s get a little bit off the beaten path. So we can go in kind of a Jewish or, what would you say, Klezmer kind of groove with “The King of Glory Comes.” That’s, but the text is by Jabusch is his name. And that’s a good one. It’s the. . . [Greg sings.] That one is quite good. I like that one a lot. I have written a different text to that, which goes “Hosanna in the highest. . .” And then it’s got some very specific Palm Sunday verses. So you can look that one up on my website. 

The thing that I like about that is that it’s a tune that people know, and it’s also a tune that you can stretch during a palm processional. So sometimes, when you’re planning music for a palm procession, you really don’t know how many kids are going to be there, are they going to form double lines or single lines, are they going to move fast or slow. It’s really one of these conundrums, these practical conundrums of leading worship on Palm Sunday. But that is one that goes chorus, verse, chorus, verse, so you can do all sorts of things to stretch it out or to trim it back. So that’s something to keep in mind for that one.

Another variation on that is another one that I did, which, I kind of, at a certain point, said, “Well, maybe I should just leave that Jewish tune alone, and think about using my text or some kind of variation on that text that I wrote, the Palm Sunday text, and do a more traditional hymn-like tune.”

Hosanna in the highest.
Hail the one who saves us
O blessed is the one who brings
The kingdom of heaven.
Who is the King of kinds, the Lord God Almighty?
God’s reign is coming
Hosanna in the highest. . .

I think that one is quite learnable, and then also serves as a good Palm Sunday, palm procession song. One issue with teaching songs like this, on the spot on Palm Sunday, is that Palm Sunday only happens once a year. And so this is one of these liturgical problems that we have, is that, whereas normally we can introduce a hymn, say, some of the hymns that I suggested, during Lent. You can introduce that the first week of Lent, and then sing it the second week of Lent, and then give them a week off, and then bring it back the fourth week of Lent. And so by then, it’s kind of become something that they are familiar with. 

The problem with some of these once a year celebrations, like Palm Sunday and Ascension, and those kinds of things, is that we get one shot to do the songs. And so if you’re going to teach something new, you might think about having your choir or your praise team lead it, maybe lead significant chunks of it before you ask the congregation to come in. Or, plan to do it every single year for the next three to five years, and then people will start to say, “Oh, this sounds familiar.” And then they’ll say, “Oh, they’re playing my favorite song!” Anyways, think about that, as I, I’m going to tell you all these new songs that you can do on Palm Sunday, but just kind of go easy on your congregations with these things.

Another song a little bit further off the beaten path is one from South Africa called “Sanna, Sannanina,” and it’s kind of a playful take on the words “hosanna.” It’s kind of like, think like a children’s game of the word “hosanna.” So it’s “Sanna, sannanina, sanna, sanna, sanna.” It’s fairly clear what you’re saying when you’re saying that, that you’re saying hosanna in a different language. And, so that song appears in a number of hymnals, and I have created a version of that that actually works as a Sanctus. So, “Holy, most holy Lord. . .” So if you are a fairly liturgical congregation that sings a Sanctus during your worship, then think about that. You can find that in published form in the Presbyterian Glory to God, #597. I also have a version for piccolo.It’s for piccolo and djembe, and you can also kind of blend in congregation. And this is another way that you can take a song and really extend it with different instruments.

Staying in the global theme, there’s another one that I really like. It’s from Guatemala, and it’s “Holy Is the Lord.” And it’s, has a verse that says, “Hosanna, hosanna.” And it’s a beautiful piece. It appears in a number of hymnals. I think that number might be two. So it’s not super common. It’s in the book that I edited about a decade ago called Global Songs for Worship, and I think it appears in some other ones after that. Now that one, again, I have a rendition of that for choir and flute, and I’ve added, when I’ve done it in the past, I’ve added some simple Latin percussion to that. And so that would be one that if you want to introduce that song, you could introduce it by having the choir sing it, and then the next year have the people sing it. And actually, that’s not so Palm Sunday specific that you can’t use it at other times in the year.

And so those are some ideas of things that you can do that are a little bit, a little bit different twist. And I really like those global songs, because, once again, you can add or subtract to them a little bit more easily than you can with a hymn. Another thing I like to do: I always try to push the idea that global music is not some kind of weird thing that we do as some kind of experiment, and then we’re done with it and we move on. But instead I try to enmesh it in the fabric of my congregation’s worship life. So one way to do that is to put some of these global songs in medley with other songs. And I’ve found some that work really well for me. 

So, for example, “The King of Glory Comes,” that we talked about, you could use that one, or the Guatemalan “Santo,” which is also, both of those are in E minor. That Guatemalan one goes, “Santo, santo, santo, santo, santo es el Señor.” So either one of those that’s in E minor, they work very well in medley with “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna” in the key of G. Often it’s written in A-flat, but there are a number of published versions in G. So that has often been my whole palm procession, is one of those global songs and then “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna.” Another one that works with “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna,” is Carl Tuttle’s “Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna to the King of kings. . .” Right? So that’s kind of an old-school tune, but to pull that out once a year is not a bad thing at all, and especially when it’s in medley with something. I’ve used it as a chorus with “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna,” where we just go back and forth between those two.

Another thing, another medley that can work is the South African “Sanna, Sannanina” combined with “All Glory, Laud, and Honor.” They’re both in B-flat, so they just kind of blend right back and forth to each other. So something I’ve done is, for congregations that know “Sanna, Sannanina,” I’ll just start singing that, and that will be the bulk of our palm procession. And I’ll time that out until we’re basically done, and then I just segue right into “All Glory, Laud, and Honor.” And that makes a real regal start, you know, the organ can come in, and all those kinds of things.

So those are some ideas about how to do a Palm Sunday service. Now, let’s look at Passion Sunday services. So, Passion Sunday is, and you can look this up online for the lectionary readings and all that of Passion Sunday. But, like I said, it gets more foreshadowing of the crucifixion. So, what do we do for Passion Sunday? I’ll give you some ideas about things that have worked well for me in the past.

One, Psalm 31 is one of the standard Psalm lectionary texts for Passion Sunday, Psalm 31. And I really like Wendell Kimbrough’s setting of Psalm 31 called, “In You Lord, I Refuge Take.”

In you, Lord, I refuge take.
Let me not be put to shame.
Turn your ear and quickly make
Safety for my trembling frame.
You’re a rock and fortress strong.
I am lost and cannot see.
For your name’s sake, lead me on.
In your hands my soul redeemed.

Very easily learnable. I have a setting of that with a flute, flute descant, and a choral arrangement of that, a simple choral arrangement, which works pretty well. So, once again, using your choir or your praise team or your instrumentalists to introduce a song is a good thing. But that’s one, Psalm 31 by Wendell Kimbrough, that’s one that I think can work all year long. Another lectionary reading for Palm Sunday, I don’t think this is a Passion reading, but it’s a Palm Sunday reading, is Psalm 118. 

And so, something that I do if I’m going to emphasize the Palm Sunday side of things. Sorry to just get back into Palm Sunday for a minute, but that, Psalm 118, is both a reading for Palm Sunday and a reading for Easter Sunday. And there are all sorts of great versions of this. A couple that I have liked a lot over the years, Michael Joncas, “This Is the Day.” A really beautiful, very simple, simple arrangement of this. “This is the day the Lord has made. . . ” And like a lot of Catholic songs, Catholic lectionary songs, it has a very short, quickly learnable melody, and then the choir or cantor will take the verses. And so it’s a nice format, because the congregation can do this new song, and just can, just on the spot learn it. It’s like an eight-bar melody, and then the leaders will take care of the rest. So that’s really nice.

Taizé’s “Psallite Deo” is another one that’s really nice. Like a lot of Taizé songs it’s very simple and austere, mostly a capella, light instrumentation. Another one that I like comes from the Lutheran world, Patrick Geary, “Rejoice and Be Glad.” You’ll find that one in Psalm Songs for Lent and Easter, volume 2. I like that one a lot. So those are Psalm 118 ideas.

Another thing for Passion Sunday that I’ve done, and this is kind of a big idea, so I’m going to introduce it to you, and then I will let you explore it if you see fit. So something that I did a number of years ago at my previous church, Church of the Servant, I created a service that was based on the Passion readings from Matthew. So, basically, and I really like to do this: I like to take Scripture and then superimpose it on top of the liturgical structure. So for example, in this particular setting, almost all the words were drawn from Scripture itself. So for example, the greeting at the beginning of the service briefly explained the triumphal entry and gives a little context to the palm procession. The confession part of the service evokes the cleansing of the Temple. The assurance after the confession centers on Jesus’ remarks about wanting to gather Jerusalem as chicks under her wing. So, each one of these things, and then it gets into, in this particular service, we actually did a dramatic reading of the Passion story from Matthew, instead of a sermon. And that Passion reading was interposed with songs and liturgical elements and all of those kinds of things. It becomes very, very powerful, by the time where you get to the part where the people are crying for Jesus to be crucified, and you give that to the congregation. It’s a very powerful moment. So I will have links to those things online. You can see the bulletin that we used, the printed worship order that we used, and you can hear a recording of parts of that service. I will leave links to that.

So, Palm Sunday, Passion Sunday. I hope this has given you a few things to think about, a few ways to kind of get into this and kind of move beyond just the straight-up “All Glory, Laud, and Honor” and then you’re done, sort of thing. I hope this helps you have a richer celebration this year at your Palm Sunday, Passion Sunday service. Like I said, we will continue this Holy Week series with a few more episodes that will center on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter, and Eastertide. Until then, this is Greg Scheer for the Greg Scheer Music Podcast.

Lent: The Wondrous Cross

The Greg Scheer Music Podcast
The Greg Scheer Music Podcast
Lent: The Wondrous Cross







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SYNOPSIS: Greg talks about songs of devotion and songs of the cross, and various ways to include these songs in a Lenten series.

EPISODE SECTIONS:

  • 0:00 – Introduction
  • 0:46 – Tunes and arrangements of “Jesus, Lover of My Soul”
  • 3:46 – Tunes and arrangements of “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”
  • 8:26 – John Stainer’s “God So Loved the World”
  • 9:15 – Tunes and arrangements of “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed”

RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE:

TRANSCRIPT
Hello, friends. This is Greg Scheer and you are listening to the Greg Scheer Music Podcast. This episode is a continuation of our Lent series. It’s the third in the series; I’d encourage you to go listen to the first two. And now, the exciting conclusion to “what to do during Lent”!

“More…”

So today we’re going to talk about, mostly about songs of the cross, and we’re going to include some things for choir. So if you have a choir and you’re wondering what to do during Lent, then stay tuned. We’re going to talk about some different things.

So, let’s start with “Jesus, Lover of My Soul.” This is not a cross song; what I often do in Lent, is I start with more, songs of devotion and songs about Christ’s nature and our reliance on Christ in the beginning of Lent, and then focus, really, more and more on the cross as Lent goes on. I think that’s a good way to do that, and it slowly brings into focus the cross, and we get into Holy Week, and there’s a lot of impact there.

So, “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” is a very, very well-loved hymn. What’s interesting is that Charles Wesley, who wrote it, his brother John was his editor, and John said, “No, this is, this is too intimate. We shouldn’t publish this.” And it was only published I think after his death, maybe, maybe after a number of years, but it’s one of his most beloved texts, but his brother John felt that it was too intimate. And it’s really interesting, you know, we don’t usually, well we shouldn’t really call Jesus a lover, our lover, because that has sexual connotations, but to say “Jesus, lover of my soul” is a different thing. And many people connect with this text.

There are a number of tunes to go with it, and that’s one of the things about this text that is unfortunate, is that there’s no tune that has just locked in with it. There’s the tune, I think it’s called MARTYN— “Jesus, lover of. . .” Oh, how does it go? Anyway, it’s in 6/4 time, and it’s not my favorite of them, but it’s a lot of people’s favorite, so it’s kind of surprising. So kind of check that out with your church if you’re going to do that.

The other one is a Welsh tune, ABERYSTWYTH. I can never pronounce the Welsh tunes because they have way too many Ys in them. But that’s the one— “Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to thy bosom fly. . .” I think that is just a beautiful tune, but it’s a minor tune, and so a lot of people, really, they feel like it’s too morose. So you kinda have to check that out. Into that fray I added my own version. And this is a choral version that’s published by GIA Music, and the tune goes “Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to thy bosom fly. . .” It’s really quite an easy anthem, so you should consider trying that out with your choir during Lent. That’s a good one.

Now, let’s move on to more cross-specific songs. The classic is “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” It’s an Isaac Watts text, and you just don’t get a better hymn text than this. It’s just beautiful the way the verse one leads into two, into three, and then in four. The first verses are observing the cross, when I survey, when I look at the cross. And it’s just contemplating Jesus and his sacrifice for us. And then verse four is this beautiful verse of response that responds and says, “If Christ can give all that to me, then certainly I can give my life to him.” What’s really interesting is the traditional tune for that only has five notes. Count em. . . So you get the point, only five notes. But with just five notes, it’s just such a beautiful tune. I don’t know how the tune is so beautiful with just so few notes.

So of course, there’s no reason not to sing that just as a hymn, but you can also do the Chris Tomlin version, which adds the “Oh, the wonderful cross. . .” It’s got a nice chorus that is added to that, so that’s another option for “When I Survey.” And you can try some creative things, especially if you’re in a blended setting. You could have your organist or pianist lead the traditional version of the verse, and then have your praise team take over during the chorus, and sing the Chris Tomlin chorus of it. You can go back and forth like that. All sorts of things that you can do with just very few resources like that.

Another thing to be aware of is the Gilbert Martin choral arrangement. It is just magnificent. If your choir has not sung this then you really need to sing it. It’s just spot-on, really sings well, it’s just, oh, it’s just lovely. So the Gilbert Martin arrangement of “When I Survey.”

Now, interesting, I actually think that the tune, I can’t remember the name of the tune. . . I think the emphasis is a little bit off in these words. “When I survey,” it just doesn’t work quite right for me. And I really like the tune O WALY WALY, “The Water Is Wide.” That, you remember— “The water is wide, I cannot get o’er. . .” Right? So that tune, and we use it for lots and lots of hymns as well. But I like it for this text: “When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died. . .” Doesn’t that fit nicely?

So, something that you can do— I do this a lot— is I’ll take a song that I really want to pound out over and over during the season, but I know that I just can’t sing it every single week as is. So I’ll take it, and I’ll vary it each week. So I might do the traditional one week, I might do the traditional with the Chris Tomlin chorus the next week, I might do the Gilbert Martin choral arrangement the next week, and then just do a folk version. And this is a way of kind of, when we use different tunes, it’s not just to confuse people or irritate them, although that sometimes does happen. . . I led this one time in a church, and this guy walks up to me after the church and says, “Thanks for ruining my favorite hymn.” Like, I don’t know, do I say, “You’re welcome”? So it’s not always going to be a win. But I think the good side of what happens when we do different tunes, is that we hear the words in a different way, right? So we put a different frame on the words and we experience it in a different way. And I think that’s really important that we do that.

Another cross song, if you have a choir. It’s funny, John Stainer’s song, “God So Loved the World,” you know, it’s a classic, but it’s kind of tired, right? You know, a lot of, not many choirs would do that because it’s like, every choral library has it. You have the Hallelujah chorus, you have— I guarantee. Just go and look in your choir folders and you’re going to find John Stainer’s arrangement, or setting, of “God So Loved the World.” And I was, I kind of felt that way about this, and one year I just kind of said, “Okay, it’s a classic. I should do it.” And I sucked it up and I did it, and boy, there’s a lot of music in there. I really, it’s just really quite a beautiful song. So, this is one that if you have that in your choral library I’d encourage you to go look for that.

And then, another one: “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed.” There are lots of Jesus bleeding songs that you can use. And you kind of have to gauge your context, right? So you, in your context something like “There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood” might not be the right song. And I understand that “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed” is quite melodramatic, it’s quite graphic. I do think that every church should sing this, you know, once during Lent. And the beauty of this song is that there’s a lot of ways to sing it. So, there’s the traditional tune, I think the tune is called HUDSON— “Alas, and did my Savior bleed, and did my Sovereign die. . .” So it’s a little more of a. . . little more upbeat and sturdy, and that’s the one that many people know. There’s one by Bob Kauflin, I can’t recall offhand how that goes. There’s one by Annie Quick, which is really, I just like this version a lot. I’ll just play a little bit of it.

Alas, and did my Savior bleed,
and did my Sovereign die?

I just completely butchered that, but you can see how it goes. It’s kind of a Irish kind of sound, and you can put just a hand drum— boom, chida, boom, dum, boom— and it’s really beautiful because it takes. . . Most of the other versions are quite sweet, and kind of melodramatic, and this one is just very muscular and almost dance-like, and I really like what it brings out in the text.

There is a great choral arrangement by Deborah Govenor, an arrangement of “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed.” And of course I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you about my own setting of “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed,” to the tune of MARTYRDOM— “Alas, and did my Savior bleed, and did my Sovereign die. . .” So it’s that tune, MARTYRDOM, you probably know that tune. And so, my choral arrangement, you can go to my website, and you can find it there. Just type in, “Alas, and did my Savior bleed,” and then you can find it. There will also be links to all of these resources below the podcast, so you can just kind of click through to all those things.

One of the things that I have done a number of years, and specifically with “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed,” some of these tunes that have been around, or texts that have been around for a long time, and have gathered lots of tunes to them, I’ve done a whole series during Lent. So I did a whole series where each week of Lent, we would do a different version of “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed.” And so, what I would often do, what I often do when I do this kind of thing, a series like this, is I’ll write a, you know, I’ve called it different things over the years: a liturgy lesson, a bulletin blurb. But, you know, if you have some kind of publication that people read, or just put it in the bulletin itself where people are, you know, have the worship materials. And you write a little overview of the song and its history, and, you know, points of interest, points of devotion, things that people can be thinking about with that. I’m actually going to have a link in this podcast, to when I was at Church of the Servant, I did this during Lent, so you’ll have a link to the Liturgy Lesson that I wrote. Because it’s a very interesting story, and so it gives you an idea of the kinds of things you can do.

Don’t forget that at hymnary.org, if you dig in to the hymn record, you often will find notes on the hymn, and many of those are very well-written, and you can just pluck those out. That’s what they’re made for— you can pluck them out, put them in your bulletin. You don’t have to write anything yourself. You can give people an overview of the hymn, and I think that’s often a real big win, because not everybody is going to love a hymn that you choose, but when they read about it, then they suddenly have more of an affinity for it.

So, lots of cross songs, lots of blood songs, lots of devotion to Jesus songs, lots of good ideas that you can use for Lent. I think that by the, now that we’re finished with this series, the biggest problem that you’re going to have is too many resources. And I hope you don’t get overwhelmed with all these, but I hope that for each of these episodes you can find just a few songs, a few variations on a theme that might work for your congregation.

Thanks so much for staying with me, and I look forward to chatting later.