This year, at our nontraditional, off-site worship service, we’re being intentional about observing Lent in a traditional way. Lent is the season between Ash Wednesday and Easter when we focus on repentance, fasting, and preparing our hearts for the death and resurrection of Jesus. Lent is a journey to the cross. In the past we’ve focused our Lenten series on the life of Jesus. One year we studied prayer. Another time we took an in-depth look at the events of the week before Easter. This year for Lent, our pastor cast a vision for a Lenten series based on spiritual disciplines. We’ll journey to the cross through prayer and fasting, Sabbath rest, reading scripture, serving, the Sacraments, and gathering in community. As our pastor cast this vision, our worship planning team was led to give this series a simple feel. We want to include traditional liturgical elements in our space, music, and corporate expressions of spiritual disciplines.
Space: Flexibility and Simplicity
Since we meet in a college auditorium, we have the opportunity to regularly change our worship space. Our stage is a blank slate with a black curtain across the back. For Lent, we will have a plain cross, a table, and the band instruments and equipment. We probably won’t have formal paraments, but we will use fabrics in liturgical colors to dress the table. Deep purples, burlaps, and grays will set a somber tone in our space.
Music: Old Becomes New
Like many nontraditional services, we generally sing modern worship songs. Occasionally we sing hymns that have been rearranged or rewritten in a modern way. It seems to me that many churches had good intentions when they set hymnals aside in favor of newer songs. I love fresh expressions of worship and I’m inspired by people who are able to write worship songs. But I also love when I hear an old song – maybe one I grew up singing – and I’m transported in my mind to a memory of worshiping God in a particular place with particular people. It’s also powerful to think about how many people have sung some of our hymns over the course of many years. Some songs just withstand the test of time. I’m personally convicted that we should sing these songs and not dismiss them, simply because they are old. So, as we are intentional about tradition during this Lenten season, we plan to sing at least one hymn each week. Some will use all the instruments in our band, but for others we may take a stripped down, acoustic approach. For some people in our congregation the hymns may actually be “new.” But no matter if the people in our church have grown up singing hymns or if they are hearing them for the first time, our hope is that the rich lyrics will connect people to God and tell God’s story. There are many great arrangements of hymns available to you. Here are a couple we use:
“How Marvelous” (I Stand Amazed in the Presence) by Chris Tomlin
“Be Thou My Vision” by Audrey Assad
Sacraments: Exploring New Rhythms
We believe spiritual disciplines can be observed both personally and corporately. We are working on ways to participate corporately in a spiritual discipline in our services each week. An obvious corporate way to participate in a spiritual discipline is by celebrating the Sacrament of Communion. Generally we celebrate Communion once a month, but during Lent we will gather around the Communion table each week. We’re also looking for ways to pray and read scripture together that are outside of what we do normally on Sundays. Additionally, we are putting together a resource people can take home with suggestions on how they can observe each discipline in a personal way. In our take home resource our goal is to offer a few suggested ways to observe each discipline, offer a reference where you can learn more on your own, and give a few ideas on how to talk about spiritual disciplines with children.
We’re hopeful as we plan a more traditional Lenten season for our worship service. Through space, music, and corporate elements we will worship God and teach and engage his people. How will you observe Lent this year? What traditional elements you use? Will you incorporate any new expressions of worship this season?