Songs I Picked for Ash Wednesday

1This Wednesday begins the season of Lent – the season of the Church year when we prepare for Easter. I thought it might be helpful for me to share the songs I picked for our evening Ash Wednesday service.

I intentionally chose songs that put the focus not on me and what I’m doing and how I’m discipling myself (which is too often the tragic focus of Lent) but on the finished work of Jesus on the cross, and his power to rescue and save from sin (which can lead to a Jesus-centered focus during Lent).

Opening:
Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing
Practically, for a mid-week service, when many people are coming directly from long days at home or at the office, I want to start off the service with something they can immediately sing and connect with. Some churches start their Ash Wednesday with obscure dirge-like hymns, and I think it’s a big turn-off to people. Theologically, this song talks about my need for God’s help (“tune my heart to sing thy grace”), God’s pursuit of me in Christ (“Jesus sought me, when a stranger…”), Jesus’ death (“…interposed his precious blood), and how he sanctifies me (“let Thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee”). We recorded this hymn, with Bob Kauflin’s adapted lyrics, on my church’s recent CD.

Songs of praise:
You Alone Can Rescue
“Who, O Lord, could save themselves, their own soul could heal?” The answer is no one! No one can save themselves. So don’t try to save yourself during Lent. This Matt Redman/Jonas Myrin song helpfully points people to Jesus as the rescuer.

Here is Love (Grace Takes My Sin)
Kate Simmonds’ great version of this hymn with the chorus: “Grace takes my sin, calls me friend, pays my debt completely…” I posted a free download of this song (off of my church’s CD) a few months ago.

After these songs, we have scripture readings, a sermon, an explanation of Lent, and then a chance to come forward for the imposition of ashes as a reminder of our mortality.

Songs during the imposition of ashes:
Come You Sinners
The song I wrote and posted about here.

Before the Throne of God Above
This song continually points upward. A great song to sing anytime, any service, for any reason, but especially when people might be tempted to look elsewhere.

Be Unto Your Name
“We are a moment, You are forever, Lord of the ages, God before time. We are a vapor, You are eternal, Love everlasting, reigning on high…”

Then we have a time of prayer, confession, and absolution (a high church word for assurance of pardon), passing of the peace, an offertory song by our choir, and then communion.

Communion:
Rock of Ages Cleft for Me
A good reminder that the “cure” for or sin isn’t in our trying harder, but in the “…blood, from Thy crimson side that flowed”, and “nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling”.

All to Us
I love the chorus of this song: “Let the glory of Your name be the passion of the Church. Let the righteousness of God be a holy flame that burns. Let the saving love of Christ be the measure of our lives. We believe You’re all to us.” We’re singing this on Ash Wednesday because, again, it lifts our eyes upward to God’s glory, his righteousness, and his saving love – not on our fasting from chocolate or TV for 40 days.

Closing:
Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah
This is a great old hymn for occasions like this. It’s a confession of our weakness of need, but the focus on God’s sufficiency to save, feed, guide, and sustain us.

If you’re choosing songs/leading worship for Ash Wednesday, or for a church that observes Lent, do all that you can to keep people’s eyes on God’s great grace, Jesus’ finished work, and the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence.

For my thoughts on other songs for Ash Wednesday from last year, click here.

What to Sing on Ash Wednesday

Yesterday I received a question from a worship leader about what kinds of songs to sing on Ash Wednesday. My answer to him wasn’t terribly profound or detailed, but since Ash Wednesday is this week, I thought I’d share my response here in case it’s helpful to anyone else:

I’ve always struggled with picking songs for Ash Wednesday myself.

I think that people wrongly think that Ash Wednesday/Lent is about self-determination to grit their teeth and give up chocolate for 40 days to show God how much they love him and impress him. I think Lent works better when it’s seen as a season to cherish Jesus more.

So, I know this sounds simple, but really any song on the glory of Jesus and his finished work. This goes against what some people want on Ash Wednesday. They want to hear/sing things about something THEY’RE going to do. Determination. I try to make a point of avoiding those songs and helping people understand there’s nothing to be gained by focussing on our own efforts.

So, in summary, pick songs about Jesus for Ash Wednesday. And Lent. And Easter. And the rest of the year too, I suppose.