Thousand, Thousand Thanks Are Due

Title: Christ the Life of All the Living
Text: Ernst C. Homburg, 1659; tr. Catherine Winkworth, 1863
Tune: JESU, MEINES LEBENS LEBEN Darnstadt, 1687
From Lift Up Your Hearts, 2013

In case you thought that Lent was a season of doom and gloom, this hymn reminds that it is profound gratitude and joy that should flow from our lives if we have been received the “full and free” atonement that only comes from Christ.

I’m not very long-winded today. I may have spent all of my wind on the harmonica on this track. Just click the link below, listen to the words, and reflect on all of the reasons you have to be thankful. Make a list – a thousand thousand would be a good number to shoot for! I think I’ll get started now…

Christ, the life of all the living; Christ, the death of death our foe;
Christ, for us yourself once giving to the darkest depths of woe:
through your suffering, death and merit, life eternal we inherit;
Thousand, thousand thanks are due, dearest Jesus unto you!

You have suffered great affliction and have borne it patiently,
even death by crucifixion: our atonement full and free.
Lord, you chose to be tormented, that our doom should be prevented;
Thousand, thousand thanks are due, dearest Jesus unto you!

Lord, for all that bought our pardon, for the sorrows deep and sore,
for the anguish in the garden, we will thank you evermore.
For the victory of your dying – sinful nature mortifying – 
Thousand, thousand thanks are due, dearest Jesus, unto you!

Throughout These Lenten Days and Nights

Text: James Gertmenian, 1993 Hope Publishing Company

Tune: TALLIS CANON, Thomas Tallis 1561

From: Lift Up Your Hearts, 2013

Sometimes in the midst of a journey, I need to be reminded of the destination. Right now I am 7 months pregnant with our second child. I’m feeling kind of slow and tired and 2 more months feels like a really long time. But just as I was complaining to myself today, I found ultrasound pictures of the little peanut in a drawer and I remembered that there something so much better coming that will make me forget the discomfort and impatience I’m feeling right now.

We are a week and a half into Lent. Have you forgotten about your commitments yet? Have you missed a couple days of fasting or prayer or Bible reading? Are you feeling a little guilty about it? Maybe you’re like me and you need a reminder of where we’re headed to keep you motivated.

Winding trail downThis week’s hymn has six neatly packaged verses that remind us that no matter how difficult the journey becomes, the destination is secure. We can learn so much from Jesus’ journey on earth. He endured temptation, ridicule, betrayal and death. His example can give us courage as we travel along in life. Hebrews 4:15 reminds us: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin.”

Jesus provided us with the ultimate example of keeping the goal of our earthly journey in mind no matter what obstacles come.

God also gives us one another as encouragement along the way. The third verse of the hymn reminds us that we can be sustained by sisters and brothers around us when human burdens and strife weigh us down. Who is walking with you on this journey? Who are you walking with? The hard stuff seems even harder when we’re going alone.

This week, I admit that I didn’t want to post anything. I’m feeling kind of lazy and unmotivated about lots of things these days. It is not unusual for me to begin strong on a journey, but lose motivation as time goes by. But friends, let’s not lose sight of where we’re headed.

Easter day
his rising hour
the feast of life
the coming dawn
Resurrection Morn

Not only did Christ rise from the dead on Easter, but he is coming again. Wherever you are on the Lenten journey or the journey of life in general, the ending has been secured by Christ. I needed the reminders contained in these verses. Maybe you do too.

Throughout these Lenten days and nights we turn to walk the inward way
where, meeting Christ, our guide and light we live in hope till Easter day

The pilgrim Christ, the Lamb of God who found in weakness greater power
Embraces us, though lost and flawed and leads us to his rising hour

We bear the silence, cross and pain of human burdens, human strife
While sisters, brothers help sustain our courage till the feast of life

And though the road is hard and steep the Spirit ever calls us on
Through Calvary’s dying, dark and deep until we see the coming dawn

So let us choose the path of one who wore, for us, the crown of thorn
And slept in death, that we might wake to life on Resurrection Morn!

Rejoice, O sons and daughters! Sing and shout hosannas! Raise the strain!
For Christ, whose death Good Friday brings on Easter day will live again!

Alas and Did My Savior Bleed?

Text: Isaac Watts
Tune and refrain: Rachel Henkle, 2014

I still clearly remember the night I watched the movie The Passion of the Christ.  I had always understood that Lent was a time for attending soup suppers and mid-week services at church. We went to a Good Friday service every year where the story of Christ’s death was depicted in a dramatic fashion – complete with a high school student posing on a wooden cross in the choir loft with other students acting the part of the Roman soldiers, driving in the nails with a very realistic sounding sound effect track to accompany. I always felt melancholy and sad – someone had died and we were there to commemorate that death.

But for some reason, after watching the Passion movie, it sunk in – maybe for the first time – someone went through that agony for me. And not just someone – the Son of God who never sinned and did not deserve any part of the punishment he received. And it was for me and my sin.

I’ve been thinking about this lately. The hymn I chose for this first week of Lent poses several questions. Did the Savior bleed and die for me? Would he really do that for sinners? Was it because of things that I have done that he had to go to the cross? For me, personalizing the price of sin can be difficult. I have always gone to church. I try hard to be a good person, do good things. I forget very quickly that it is only because of God’s relentless grace that I have any capacity for good. I want to take credit for being the halfway decent person that I am.

Maybe a temptation during Lent is to rely on our own will power to help us through – especially if we have given something up. When we want to reach for that can of soda or turn on the TV, we muster up some self-control and say no instead. And we feel good about ourselves. But we shouldn’t necessarily give things up so we can feel better about ourselves. Rather it is in turning away from things that distract us that we can turn to Christ and discover just how deeply we actually need him.

For me, asking myself the questions posed in this hymn help me remember. Sure, the world is full of evil things and evil people who really need a savior. But I need a savior too. There is evil and sin inside of me. For some reason, just asking the questions wasn’t enough for me this year. I know the rhetorical questions are assuming that the answer is yes – he did bleed and die for me. But I needed to make myself answer the questions to keep my self-righteous tendencies at bay. So, even though I know I can’t improve on Isaac Watts’ original words, I added 4 lines to drive home the point in my own heart. Indeed, it was for my sin that my Savior bled and died. It’s only by his grace I live. A sinner such as I. As you listen, take a moment to pose the questions to yourself.

Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For sinners such as I?

Thy body slain, sweet Jesus, Thine—
And bathed in its own blood—
While the firm mark of wrath divine,
His Soul in anguish stood.

Was it for crimes that I had done
He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!

Well might the sun in darkness hide
And shut his glories in,
When Christ, the mighty Maker died,
For man the creature’s sin.

Thus might I hide my blushing face
While His dear cross appears,
Dissolve my heart in thankfulness,
And melt my eyes to tears.

But drops of grief can ne’er repay
The debt of love I owe:
Here, Lord, I give my self away
’Tis all that I can do.

Sunday’s Palms Are Wednesday’s Ashes

Text: Rae E. Whitney

Tune: BEACH SPRING attr. to B.F. White
The other night, I was laying with my squirrely 2-year-old at bedtime. She had lots of energy and she was tossing and turning, sitting up, standing up, giggling and having a great time. I was tired and I was ready for some quiet moments to myself, so I kept telling her to lay down and be quiet. In her silliness, she dropped to the pillow, smashing her head right into my nose. “That’s why I told you to lay down. Now be quiet and go to sleep!” I yelled and I was about to put her in the crib and walk away. But then I heard her little voice say, “That wasn’t very nice, Mommy.” Immediately I knew that getting mad at her wouldn’t solve anything, so I gave her a hug and apologized for yelling at her. Because I make mistakes all the time, I know that I will continue to have chances to teach her that to confess and ask for forgiveness is not weak or foolish, but a necessary part of our lives in this fallen world.

Are Christians known as people of contrition and repentance? Or do we feel like we have to be right about everything? Confessing our sins takes humility and honesty. Doing so in public takes even more courage. Tonight, most of the churches in our small community are joining together for an Ash Wednesday service and this hymn is in the order of worship: Sunday’s Palms are Wednesday’s Ashes. It’s a confession – and a public one at that. I think it would be amazing if the distinguishing mark of Christians in our community was the cross of ashes. We live in light of the forgiveness that Jesus afforded us on the cross, so admitting we’re sinful does not jeopardize our reputation, it shines light on the greatness of Christ!

The very palm branches that are used to remember Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem the week he was crucified on the cross are burned to make the ashes that form the crosses on our foreheads tonight. You can read Luke’s account about the first Palm Sunday here. Even though the people worshiped and welcomed Jesus with great honor and celebration that day, they could never have guessed that before Jesus could be exalted, he had to first die the death of a criminal on a cross. As we joyfully anticipate Easter this year, let us not forget that our sins made it necessary for Jesus to go to the cross.

This hymn is personal – we have personally offended both God and our neighbor in many ways. It is also corporate – we kneel… our sins… grant us pardon. We do not simply confess and repent in isolation, but in community with our brothers and sisters in Christ. This corporate confession does two things. First, we admit our sin in front of everyone, no longer trying to hide it or explain it away. Second, we look around and realize that we are not alone. Everyone in our family, our church, our community and our world is a also sinner in need of a Savior. Instead of guilt and shame, we can leave our Ash Wednesday repentance with the confidence that it is not our own merit, but God’s grace that covers whatever we confess.

Take a moment to listen to these words and turn them into your own humble, honest prayer. Is there anything that resonates with you as something you must confess? Would you add anything to this list? I pray this season will be filled with glimpses of God’s glory and grace and a deeper sense of gratitude and love for Him.

Sunday’s palms are Wednesday’s ashes as another Lent begins
thus we kneel before our Maker in contrition for our sins
We have marred baptismal pledges, in rebellion gone astray
now, returning, seek forgiveness; grant us pardon, God, this day!

We have failed to love our neighbors, their offences to forgive,
have not listened to their troubles, nor have cared just how they live,
we are jealous, proud, impatient, loving overmuch our things;
may the yielding of our failings be our Lenten offerings.

We are hasty to judge others, blind to proof of human need
and our lack of understanding demonstrates our inner greed;
we have wasted earth’s resources; want and suffering we’ve ignored;
come and cleanse us, then restore us; make new hearts within us, Lord!

The Hymns of Lent – A 40-Day Musical Journey to the Cross

Lent begins on Wednesday. Even though I don’t always keep up with the church calendar, the idea of Lent has always appealed to me. Easter is supposed to be the most important celebration of the church year. Jesus was raised from the dead! That news is amazing in itself, but Lent allows a period of 40 days to truly ponder the depth of our own sin and our need for a Savior. It can help us come to the foot of the cross, lay down those sins, and come face to face with the One who not only died for us, but was raised from the tomb and who lives and reigns today.

Over the years, I’ve had one of two responses to this season. The first is to begin it with the best of intentions. I attend an Ash Wednesday service, and leave with a gray cross on my forehead and a commitment to give up dessert, read extra Bible passages and take time to truly reflect on the coming celebration of the death and resurrection of Christ. The way this turns out… well let’s just say I really like dessert, I misplace my Bible sometime around the second Sunday, and my time of reflection gets replaced by preparing for extra worship services along with all the other things on my to-do list. My second response is to remember that I rarely follow through on my resolutions anyway, so I don’t even try. It’s very similar to my love-hate relationship with new year’s resolutions I wrote about a couple months ago.

This year I’m going to give it another go. Here’s my plan… I’m going to focus my attention on the hymns of Lent. Many of us are probably familiar with the Advent and Christmas sections of most hymnals, but the Lenten hymns don’t get as much playing time. I’m opening up some space in my next 40 days for the Holy Spirit to teach me through these hymns. My goal is to post a hymn each week. I invite you to join me and help me stay on track with this quest by reading along, listening, and offering your comments along the way.

   A couple questions to start the discussion –
   How have you observed Lent in the past (if at all)? 
   How has this impacted your relationship with Jesus?
   How do you plan to spend the season of Lent this year?