Lent does not deserve the reputation that it has for deprivation. It can be a beautiful, spiritually rich, powerfully moving season. This Sunday we will sing four beloved hymn tunes, we will read one of the most reassuring Psalms, we will hear the old familiar story of Jesus suffering real temptations just as we do and showing us a way to respond that brings angels to our aid. Yes, Lent leads us into a wilderness, but it is a lovely and love-filled and fruitful one.
Here one of the wisest perspectives on Lent that I know. After it I will give more details about the service and share three extraordinary recordings. This is an excerpt from the great Lenten book of daily readings, A Season for the Spirit, by Martin Smith:
“Perhaps the word surrender should be enough for my prayer on this Ash Wednesday. Not the surrender of submission to an enemy, but the opposite, the laying down of resistance to the One who loves me infinitely more than I can guess, the One who is more on my side than I am myself. “Dwelling on this thought of letting go, and handing myself over to the Spirit will bring me much closer to the experience of Jesus than the word “discipline” which so many of us have been trained to invoke at the beginning of Lent. It should help us smile at our anxious attempts to bring our life under control, the belt-tightening resolutions about giving up this or taking on that. What we are called to give up in Lent is control itself! Deliberate efforts to impose discipline on our lives often serve only to lead us further away from the freedom which Jesus attained through surrender to the Spirit, and promised to give….Lent is about the freedom which is gained only through exposure to the truth….The truth we are promised if we live the demands of this season consists not in new furniture for the mind but in exposure to the reality of God’s presence in ourselves and the world. The Spirit promises to bring us into truth by stripping away some more of the insulation and barriers which have separated us from living contact with reality, the reality of God, of God’s world, and our true selves.” (from Martin Smith’s A Season for the Spirit)
This Sunday we will read from Psalm 32 (“I will…teach you the way you should go”), I will talk with the children about Exodus 13:17-22 about God leading the children of Israel through the wilderness, and we will hear Matthew’s account of Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). We will begin with the classic Lenten hymn, “Forty Days and Forty Nights,” and end with a verse of the spiritual, “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me.” Our communion hymn will be “Let Us Break Bread Together.” The sermon hymn will be “God This Wilderness Seems Trackless,” with contemporary words set to the traditional Advent tune, Wachet Auf (“Wake, Awake, for Night Is Flying”). J.S. Bach composed the harmony to this tune and provided the inspiration to use it during Lent by his using a Good Friday tune, the Passion Chorale, at Christmas.
Here are three recordings of music from the service. First, we have two recordings of “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me” — the Holmes Brothers singing it in Blues style from the depths of their hearts and souls, and a more traditional spiritual rendition by Larry Kinley, although with unusual instrumentation. Third there is a recording of Wachet Auf as probably has never been done before–Yo Yo Ma is playing the main tune of the hymn on cello here on the Prairie Home Companion stage.