Remember, You Are Dust

Lent: Living Our Baptismal Calling Series Overview

Ash Wednesday, Year A

We gather to acknowledge our mortality and our sinfulness, and to seek God’s mercy and guidance for the season of intensive formation and re-formation in the way of Jesus that lies ahead.  



There are many ways to approach the singing of this haunting, mysterious hymn. Although it can be accompanied on any number of instruments, I would recommend keeping a simple drone (G and D) underneath the melody. This can be accomplished with an organ, choir, strings, or even a “singing bell” technique with handbells. Keep a slow tempo, and allow space between phrases for deep breathing. On the last beat of each line of the text, play finger cymbals one time for some variance in the texture. Using an instrument such as violin or flute on the unison melody can also enhance the ambience. Read History of Hymns: "O-So-So" »

Dust and Ashes

An accompaniment for this hymn can be found in the Accompaniment Edition of Worship & Song, but my recommendation is similar to “O-So-So” above: the simpler, the better. On this day of reflection and repentance, creating stark textures can be very powerful. Either support with a drone (D and A), or simply sing as an a cappella canon as it is printed in the hymnal. If this is the chosen means of singing, know that having a choir (and rehearsing them ahead of time!) is vital to making this work. The other option would be for a solo voice to serve as the leader, and a solo treble instrument such as flute, oboe, or violin, to accompany the congregational singing. A pulsing hand drum might also support rhythmic continuity. Read the Dust and Ashes Hymn Study »

God, How Can We Forgive

This powerful hymn by Ruth Duck is beautifully set to the tune LEONI, which is often thought of in relation to the hymn, “The God of Abraham Praise.” It creates a mourning quality that is reflected in the probing questions of the hymn text. For a more traditional setting, accompany on organ or piano. Know, however, that when accompanied simply, this song also works well with a praise band and vocal team. Allow the long phrases of quarter notes to provide the basis to accompany with a driving rhythm. Doing so might provide some atmospheric variance in a service that is so often regarded as quiet and contemplative.

Falling on My Knees

Simple, simple, simple. This is often regarded as a very personal, intimate song; and when receiving the ashes, it can be a powerful expression of repentance and prayer. It is either singable as a solo or a congregational song. The repetition of the text, “So I wait for you” creates a very anticipatory feeling leading into the higher notes of the refrain, and the phrase “I’m falling on my knees” is painted beautifully in the music by singing a descending musical line that itself embodies the action taking place here. Accompany with a piano or solo guitar, and supplement with other instruments if desired.

Forgive Us, Lord/Perdón, Señor

A wonderfully simple accompaniment is provided in the Accompaniment Edition of The Faith We Sing for this sung intercessory prayer. If you have a choir in your church, instruct them to sing the congregational words, “Forgive us, Lord/Perdón, Señor,” in four-part harmony. It is possible to allow the congregational parts to serve as a cyclic song that would easily turn into a short statement akin to a breath prayer. A song leader or soloist should sing the intercessions. Treat this song as a true intercessory prayer, and create intercessions that are poignant to your church and community. Accompany with guitar, organ, or piano.

Depth of Mercy

Penny Rodriguez has created one of the most beautiful settings of a Charles Wesley hymn with this tune, GOTTES ZEIT. Though there are no actual words of conversation, the unspoken dialogue between God and the writer is profound and reflects both the restlessness of the believer and the relentlessness of the Creator. Accompany with a organ or piano. Read the Depth of Mercy Hymn Study »

Sunday’s Palms are Wednesday’s Ashes

This hymn offers a solid starting point for this Lenten series as we spend each week focusing upon one of the baptismal vows in our ritual. The opening stanza of “Sunday’s Palms” contains the text, “We have marred baptismal pledges, in rebellion gone astray,” so this becomes a vital piece of confession to begin the season. BEACH SPRING offers a reflective tune for the text and one that helps move along the text, too. EBENEZER would be another choice, but understand that the hymn might take twice as long to sing. Accompany with organ or piano.

Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)

Many congregations have embraced this song as a modern expression of one of the most beloved hymns in our congregational repertoire. The refrain hearkens to Charles Wesley’s own “And Can It Be that I Should Gain,” where Wesley writes, “my chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed thee.” This song is often accompanied by a band and vocal praise team, but it can also be accompanied by solo piano, guitar, or even organ. Note that the melody notes included in Worship & Song are an ornamental representation of the way Chris Tomlin sings the song, and your congregation may instead sing this as it is used to, which is perfectly acceptable! Read the Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone) Hymn Study »

Come and Fill/In God Alone

These short, cyclic songs by Jacques Berthier are a part of the sung prayer repertoire from the Taizé Community in France. These simple chants offer a way for people to sing prayers in worship. They are also wonderful pedagogical tools for those seeking to strengthen part singing in choirs–both because of their simplicity and their repetition. The Taizé Community recommends using the resources of each context, so accompaniment will vary from place to place. If you visit Taizé, however, you would usually hear an arpeggiated, finger-picked guitar with other obbligato instruments (flute, oboe, brass, strings, etc.) as are available. Sing the song several times to allow the words to transcend the page and become the prayers of your congregation.

Lord, Let Your Kingdom Come

The instructions of this ritual song of intercessory prayer recommend singing in the following form: Refrain--Petition 1--Response, Refrain--Petition 2--Response, and so on. There are many ways this could be done, and you may have to experiment to see what feels appropriate in your context. Another suggestion would be for the choir or congregation to hum on an Eb Major chord or a unison Eb during the petitions and have the leader sing the first two measures of the response, at which point, the pulse and accompaniment picks back up each time. Whatever way you choose to sing, do so in a way that is doesn’t feel forced, even if it is appropriately structured.

Taste and See

A standard in the catalog of GIA Publications, Inc., this hymn by James E. Moore offers a short, repetitive refrain for a congregation to sing while receiving the elements of Holy Communion. Singing these kinds of refrains in the midst of ritual action allows the congregation to move freely and not be encumbered by a book or bulletin. The stanzas are to be sung by a soloist, and the accompaniment is piano, guitar, and/or organ. Any combination of these instruments will work beautifully. Read History of Hymns: "Taste and See" »

Come to the Table of Grace

This hymn offers the same possibility as “Taste and See” by having only a few repetitive words and phrases. “Grace” is replaced in different stanzas by the words “peace,” “love,” and “joy.” One of the best characteristics of this song is its ability to defy a set style or genre; it can be used in any setting, depending on the accompaniment and the tempo. Use some creative imagination to explore ways to enhance this simple song in your worship. Read the Come to the Table of Grace Hymn Study »

The Spirit Sends Us Forth to Serve

LAND OF REST provides a beautiful and lilting setting for moving forward to “comfort those who mourn,” “be the hands of Christ,” and “go to serve in peace.” This folk melody has a beautiful accompaniment, but the inclusion of the melody line only in the Pew Edition of The Faith We Sing allows for some creativity in the accompaniment. Since it is largely, though not completely, pentatonic, this would also be a wonderful opportunity for some enhanced accompaniment from children on Orff instruments or other instruments with a simple, memorizable pattern. A good way to approach an improvised accompaniment on a keyboard or strummed instrument would be to use different harmonic combinations of the notes F,G,A,C, and D. (The Bb does appear in the melody, but quite infrequently). Any combination of these notes should work against the melody. Read History of Hymns: "The Spirit Sends Us Forth to Serve" »

As We Go

Jeremy Johnson has written a very short and memorable chorus with “As We Go.” I have personally used this song to close a number of events, and accompaniment can work with any keyboard or strummed instrument and light percussion, if desired. If it is unfamiliar to your congregation, use a choir or soloist to model the song in its entirety, then welcome the congregation to sing the second time through. This is a song that is easily adopted as a song of sending forth throughout a particular month or season, and that is by far the best way to introduce it to your congregation. Allow time to help with the teaching.

Walk with Me

By singing the stories of those who inspire faithfulness (in this case, Moses, Peter, and Mary Magdalene), this hymn will inspire your congregation to live their week reflecting upon these examples of those who followed God. In the midst of such trying times as we are currently witnessing, sending your congregation forth with a message of unity and solidarity is one of the most important things you can do when entrusting your flock to the world. Accompany this hymn with a piano or organ. If you have a choir, encourage them to sing four-part harmony on the refrain (lines 1 and 2). On the last stanza, I would recommend dividing the congregation in half and instructing them to turn, face the other half, and sing to one another, directing them to sing this as they would to inspire and encourage their neighbors. Holding hands on the last refrain might even be a way to share this witness of unity before leaving worship.

As We Part for the Towns and Cities

When considering this title by John Thornburg for inclusion in Worship & Song, we discovered that John had written the text to be paired with the tune AS THE DEER. It seemed like a logical choice and one that would be sung because of the widely recognized tune. However, we quickly learned that the copyright holder would not allow that tune to be set with any other hymn than “As the Deer.” Gary Alan Smith called me in haste, saying, “I need a tune ASAP.” This hymn tune, CONNECTION, was the result. It is important to note that John’s text is a prayer, and so it should be sung in the hope that God will answer these prayers, even as the congregation sings the song. Piano, guitar, or organ can all serve as appropriate accompaniment. Should your choir be looking for an arrangement of this in a choral format, you can order a setting published by Choristers Guild here.

Beautiful Things

This song is alluded to a few times in this service, and we encourage its use on Ash Wednesday because it is incredibly appropriate for this occasion. “You make beautiful things out of the dust” is a reminder of what God can do in the midst of our frailty and brokenness. Your congregation may already be familiar with this song through a vacation Bible school curriculum, but there is a suggestion to be made if you are only familiar with the recording by Gungor. You will notice in his recording that he eventually takes the chorus up one octave to a range unattainable by almost all congregations. My simple recommendation is to sing in the key of D, and continue singing the melody in its octave. To simulate the jump Gungor makes, a male voice could sing lead on the melody until the jump, at which point a female voice takes over. This will achieve the same octave leap, but typically people do not strain when they hear a female voice singing in a lower range. If this leap is not important in the worship dynamic you envision, feel free to sing in a lower range throughout. Accompaniment is best supported with a piano, guitar, or band.

In This Series...

Ash Wednesday — Planning Notes First Sunday in Lent | Renounce — Planning Notes Second Sunday in Lent | Accept — Planning Notes Third Sunday in Lent | Confess — Planning Notes Fourth Sunday in Lent | Nurture — Planning Notes Fifth Sunday in Lent | Believe! — Planning Notes