As we settle into the season of Lent, our worship naturally takes on a more reflective nature. Lent is a time of reflection about our lives, a time of repentance and preparation for the remembrance of Christ’s passion – and music meets us in these places in profound ways.
There are probably more hymns written about the cross than about any other single aspect of the Christian faith – not only because it is at the very core of the Christian gospel, but also because when we sit in brokenness before the cross, our hearts cry out with particular wonder, love and praise. Listed below are some classic hymns of Lent that express the heart-cry of brothers and sisters through time – hymns through which our voices and souls can worship alongside saints through the ages, joined together with the depth of their faith, their wonder, and their surrender. In addition to singing wonderful new songs during this Lenten season, which give us fresh expressions of worship and faith (such as “Power of the Cross” by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty), we can also drink deeply from the well of time where there are many other wonderful treasures we dare not lose. The hymns of Christian faith are one of the most precious means of learning from, and worshipping with, the saints who have gone before us – through their music, we are enriched and spurred on to deeper love and devotion.
Even if you do not know the “traditional tunes” of these hymns, the words are in the common domain and can be freely set to new tunes which can give them back to the contemporary church in a new way. When Vikki Cooke resurrected the words of a 19th-century hymn by a forgotten woman named Charitie Bancroft, and wrote a new tune for “Before the Throne of God Above,” she gave back to the church a wonderful treasure of worship and praise.
Maybe you have the musical gifts to do the same, giving the church today a contemporary setting for some of these old texts. Or maybe you can sing the old tunes in a new way. Or perhaps you will find that learning to sing them as they are, will open your heart to discover new riches of Lenten wonder. Or perhaps you might just want to ponder them as poetry. However you engage them, take time during this Lenten season to explore some Lenten hymns you may never have encountered – and let them lead you, in the deepest places of your heart, to the foot of the cross again.
Contemplation upon the Cross
“O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” Latin hymn, sometimes attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux, 12th century
“O Love Divine, What Hast Thou Done” by Charles Wesley, 1742
“What Wondrous Love is This” American folk hymn
“Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed” by Isaac Watts, 1707
“Beneath the Cross of Jesus” by Elizabeth Clephane, 1872
“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” by Isaac Watts, 1707
“O come and Mourn with Me Awhile” by Frederick Faber, 1849
“Cross of Jesus, Cross of Sorrow” by William Simpson, 1886
“Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me” by Augustus Toplady, 1776
Prayers for Lent
“Lord Jesus, Think on Me” by Synesius of Cyrene, 375-430
“Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days” by Claudia Hernaman, 1873
“Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross” by Fanny Crosby, 1869
The Story of the Passion
“Tis Finished! The Messiah Dies” by Charles Wesley, 1762
“Ah, Holy Jesus” by Johann Heermann, 1630
“Go to Dark Gethsemane” by James Montgomery, 1820
“Behold the Savior of Mankind” by Samuel Wesley, 1662-1735
“Sing, My Tongue, the Glorious Battle” by Fortunatus, 6th century
“Ride On! Ride On in Majesty” by Henry Milman, 1827
“Tis Midnight, and on Olive’s Brow” by William Tappan, 1822
“Man of Sorrows, What a Name” by Philip Bliss, 1875
The lyrics of these hymns can be found either on Google or Christian hymnals; many heard on YouTube.