Again We Keep This Solemn Fast: Ideas for Lenten Worship

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As we approach the season of Lent, you may find yourself, like many worship leaders, at a loss for how to observe and approach this time. It’s easy for many of us to plan Christmas and Easter joy and celebration, but what do we do with fasting? How do we enter as a community into what feels like the opposite of those feasts: mourning, lack, severity? Here a few practical thoughts I offer to help frame your approach to Lent.

Fasting from Noise: Entering Silence Together

One way to corporately observe the season of Lent in a way that highlights this time of repentance and examination might be to incorporate silence into your worship more often. Brian Rhea wrote a wonderful reflection on the meaning of silence in worship (read it here), noting: “Silence gives us space to pray as we have need. Silence allows us to center ourselves and prepare to meet with God. Silence calls us out of the noise of the world and acts as a threshold into the holy space of worship. Silence molds us into an attitude of humility before our Creator—being slow to speak and quick to listen…” Perhaps this silence comes as the beginning of a prayer, or as a pause after the reading of Scripture. Wherever it happens, making silent space within the time of worship allows people the opportunity to be still before God and hear God’s voice.

Fasting from Instrumentation: Stripping Down the Band

If your church normally has a large ensemble with a big full sound, perhaps Lent is a time to reduce that instrumentation to a simple guitar and piano set-up, or maybe even trying some unaccompanied a cappella singing. It’s a visual and sonic way to illustrate the journey of the heart in Lent: stripping away trappings or excesses to focus on what God is doing in our lives. This is, of course, not a condemnation of big bands – once Easter rolls around, go ahead and shake the rafters! But it might be a helpful way to change your normal routine, and to get your creative juices flowing as a leader as well.

“Bright Sadness:” Celebrating God’s Mercy

The Eastern Orthodox church often refers to Lent as a “bright sadness:” that is, a time of intermingled mourning and joy. As Christians, we do not mourn as those who have no hope. Focusing our worship on the theme of God’s great mercy, and our thankfulness for that mercy, is a great antidote to the possible temptation to wallow in the “woe-is-me” aspects of repentance. We are still loved, valued, and redeemed children of God, and we need to sing these joyous truths loud and clear throughout the Lenten season.

I hope these thoughts can help you lead your congregations well during Lent. If you have any more ideas, I’d love to hear them!

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Patrick is the Director of Worship and Administration at St. Luke’s Anglican Church in the Los Angeles area. He attended Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he concentrated his studies on worship and liturgy. His wife, Jenette, was a voice major at Wheaton College, where the two met while singing in choir together. They have one son, Peter, and a daughter on the way!

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