Hymns for Lent and Holy Week

Hymns for Lent and Holy Week

These three hymns all invite us to move away from a Lenten focus on “Jesus died for our sins” to a more positive focus on “Jesus lived to liberate our lives.” This hardly sugar-coats the cross. If anything, it is both historically more accurate,  and theologically more coherent. Plus, it is vocationally more daring: these hymns invite us into costly discipleship. The pattern of living modeled by Jesus — a pattern of graciously welcoming outcasts and of intentionally and skillfully working to subvert the status quo — is what got him killed. And it is that pattern to which we are called.

FEEL FREE TO USE THESE IN YOUR OWN WORSHIP SERVICES. All I ask is that if you, you let me know.

This one is new in 2011 … I’m late posting it, as it would be a nice hymn to sing throughout the Lenten season.

Now Let Us Follow Jesus

Now let us follow Jesus / the length’ning of these days
To set our face, alongside his / on Zion fix our gaze.
And as we walk along the way / his parables to share
Of a God who welcomes everyone / if we ourselves but dare.

Among the deeds of Jesus / his healings and his meals
We glimpse the wid’ning circle of / all those whom God’s love seals.
And in the way that Jesus did / thus beckon each one home
He caught as well the watchful eye / and iron fist of Rome.

Along our Lenten journey / we trace the path he trod
And in our lives we shape as well / the image of our God.
This path that leads to wood and nails / and culminates in death
Is, too, the path where we partake / in God’s own Holy Breath.

Text: David R. Weiss, b. 1959 (text, © 2011 David R. Weiss)
Tune: Frederick C. Maker, 1844-1927, ST. CHRISTOPHER (Beneath the Cross of Jesus, Lutheran Book of Worship 107 – © The Psalms and hymns Trust, London)

Permission is given to photocopy Now Let Us Follow Jesus for use in worship.


This Lenten hymn suggests that we “stand in the shadow of the cross” by standing with those whose company Jesus kept. Note that this is a beautiful, haunting, and irregular melody. My words work perfectly with it, but there are a few places where that perfect fit is a bit nuanced! If your organist/pianist/song-leader plays through it, you’ll see (and hear) how its fits together.

In the shadow of your cross

You first were laid in a manger
Cradled gently by wooden beams early
Their shadow playing in stable firelight.  … and Refrain

You heard your mother sing sweetly
Her soul daily the Lord magnifying
’Til her song came to life in your living.  … and Refrain

You gathered all who would listen
Claiming mercy as God’s holy yearning
And for this risking your name and your life. … and Refrain

You last were nailed to the timber
Hoisted roughly on wooden beams deadly
Such anger aimed at your love for the least. … and Refrain

We who have followed your footsteps
Making mercy the fruit of our living
When darkness threatens, Lord, steady our souls.  … and Refrain

Sweet Lord, in the shadow of your cross
We are standing right here at your side
In the least of many sisters and brothers
We find you as we stand by their side.

Text: David R. Weiss, b. 1959 (text, 2006, © 2008 David R. Weiss)
Tune: Cesáreo Gabaraín, 1936-1991, Pescador de hombres (You have come down to the lakeshore, With One Voice 784 – © 1979 Ediciones Paulinas, admin OCP Publications)

Permission is given to photocopy In the Shadow of your Cross for use in worship.


I wrote this hymn for Maundy Thursday, but it would be appropriate to any service, particularly an evening one, where the Eucharist will be celebrated. I intentionally used the tune of a Christmas Carol … both to link Christmas to Holy Week/Easter, but also to emphasize the theme of incarnation as the driving power of Holy Week. This Eucharist is not about Jesus’ impending death as a “necessary” or “destined” sacrifice, but about celebrating the life lived … and recognizing the impending death as the price exacted by worldly forces for that life … about honoring that life not by remembering its sacrifice but by emulating its compassion.

Note that this tune, while very familiar, also has a few tricky places where we flawlessly link the words of the Christmas Carol to the tune only because we’ve been doing it for so long. In my fourth verse, the words “remembering” and “encountering” work, but your tongue needs to be on its toes. If your organist/pianist/song-leader plays through it, you’ll see (and hear) how its fits together.

It was upon a moonlit night
(Maundy Thursday)

It was upon a moonlit night / when Jesus broke the bread;
With friends now gathered at his side / in solemn voice he said,
“For, lo, these many days we have / proclaimed the Kingdom at hand;
In turns: at table, by tale, by touch / we’ve shown God gracious and grand.

“But now the forces of power and hate / make ready to bury this wheat,
Before their deeds are done, my friends / each of you, take and eat.”
Then raising high the cup of wine / he looked the room around
And spoke once more of days now past / of children lost now found.

“My friends, the justice of our God / is sealed in gracious love;
As earth gives freely to the vine / so mercy flows above.
Yet ’gainst the mercy we freely shared / oppression has lengthened its reach.
And now, before my blood is spilled / from this cup, drink of you each.”

With eyes aflame with fear and faith / did Christ thus finish the meal;
And we who gather at his request—rememb’ring, we render it real.
In mercy breaking the bread he gave / in kindness sharing the cup;
In love encount’ring the least of these / and thereby his wounds we bind up.

. . . In love encount’ring the least of these / and thereby raising Christ up.

Text: David R. Weiss, b. 1959 (text, 2004, © 2008 David R. Weiss)
Tune: Richard S. Willis, 1819-1900, CAROL (It Came Upon the Midnight Clear, Lutheran Book of Worship 54 – public domain)

Permission is given to photocopy Moonlit Night for use in worship.

One thought on “Hymns for Lent and Holy Week

  1. Thank you for these wonderful hymns that speak to the message of our liberation through Christ’s life and death. The theme of our worship this Lenten season at Spirit of the Lakes-Minnehaha UCC has been one of taking risks, becoming vulnerable, unbinding ourselves and others through our stories and our lives, and doing anti-oppression work to liberate others and thereby ourselves, so your words are very timely for us!

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