Lent and Advent have the best music

Posted 9 March 2011 by
Flowering trees in Spring

Flowering trees in Spring. "Lent" means "Spring."

My partner has had several Sunday-morning church positions for well over a decade. Actually, for most of the time I have known him. Musicians tend to make money where and how they can. Fortunately, my partner sees church work as something more than a paycheck.

That being said, at some place previous to where he is now, I was talking to someone after services during the coffee hour. This person thought I was crazy when I said Lent and Advent has the best music. I look to depth of content, both words and music. The other person had a simple criteria: was it happy music?

If life was always happy, maybe having happy music would be sufficient. Life is more than happiness. Music needs to be more than happiness to be real and meaningful to life.

That being said, I have some Lenten suggestions for you. These suggestions go beyond “happy, happy, joy, joy.”


I have posted 40 for your viewing pleasure before. A good video bears repeating.

Forty Days and Forty Nights

From 40 to “Forty Days and Forty Nights,” now we have one of the traditional hymns for Lent in western Christianity.

The length of Lent is 40 days, based on the number of days Jesus was in the desert. In the Eastern church, it is 40 days inclusive. In the Western church, it is 40 days excluding Sunday (as all Sundays are a celebration of the resurrection), making the season 46 days long. The importance is not the number of days, but taking time for self examination and renewal of life.

God be Merciful to Me

Psalm 51 is a critical part of the Episcopal Church liturgy for Ash Wednesday. It is not used as a lesson. Instead, it is used for prayer and contemplation as a formal part of the liturgy for the day.

Wilt Thou Forgive

The words of John Donne poem “Hymn to the Father” are for the entire Lenten season, not just for the day we start our personal reassessment.

There is also a bad pun at the end of the verses. John Donne married Anne More. This adds an extra meaning to the words: ‎”When thou hast done, thou hast not done, for I have more.”

Who said that spirituality and educated discourse had always to be serious?

Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir

The original words are by Martin Luther.

From deepest woe I cry to thee;
Lord, hear me, I implore thee!
Bend down thy gracious ear to me;
I lay my sins before thee.
If thou rememberest every sin,
if nought but just reward we win,
could we abide thy presence? (“Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir“)

Johann Sebastian Bach made one of his little six-part offerings on these words, for organ (BWV 686). (Remember that an organist only has two hands and two feet, so keeping six lines going requires a bit of juggling.)

Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis by Ralph Vaughn Williams

The origin of the word “Lent” comes from “Spring,” the time of lengthening days on the calendar. Bringing Spring into Lent is appropriate with this video is appropriate.

At the same time, many US hymnals use the Tallis tune as a settle for words in the hymn “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say.”

I heard the voice of Jesus say, “Come unto Me and rest;
Lay down, thou weary one, lay down Thy head upon My breast.”
I came to Jesus as I was, weary and worn and sad;
I found in Him a resting place, and He has made me glad. (“I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say“)

Other Lenten Thoughts

Fr. Scott Gunn is doing a Lenten series on his blog about the 39 Articles of Religion of the Anglican Church. This should prove to provoke thought, and in a good way.

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