The First Sunday in Lent
Revised Common Lectionary Prayers for this service are available at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.
Leccionario en Español, Leccionario Común Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes.
Para obtener más recursos basados en el leccionario, Estudios Exegético: Homiléticos.
Lectionnaire en français, Le Lectionnaire Œcuménique Révisé.
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7.
Adam and Eve are tempted by a serpent to distrust God and eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Psalm Response: Psalm 32 (UMH 766).
A voice of wisdom from one who has sinned, confessed, and known God's forgiveness. See performance suggestions below in "Embodying the Word."
Jesus Christ as the New Adam who frees us from the power of sin and death.
Matthew's story of Jesus tempted by the devil in the wilderness.
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Today is the first Sunday in Lent. All Sundays are “little Easters.” Sunday is called “the eighth day” in a number of early Christian writings, the day of Resurrection and New Creation. This is why many baptismal fonts, dating from the earliest centuries, have eight sides. If your font is eight-sided, highlight this symbolism in worship today as you begin your Lenten Sundays.
Lent as a season is primarily about preparation for baptism and living out the baptismal covenant more faithfully, not primarily about penitence. We have one day of penitence that kicks off the season, Ash Wednesday. The rest of the Sundays and weekdays in Lent are about living as the baptized in light of that initial penitence. So as you plan for this season, attend more to the “mood” of the Scriptures for each Sunday in it rather than “imposing” a “penitential” mode on the entire season.
Coming up in March
One Great Hour of Sharing
April 13-19 Holy Week
April 13: Palm/Passion Sunday
April 17: Maundy Thursday
April 18: Good Friday
May 5-11 Christian Family Week
May 17-18 Change the World Weekend
May 24 Aldersgate Day
May 26 Memorial Day (USA)
May 29 Ascension of the Lord
As with all Sundays that include denominational or other programmatic observances elements, keep in mind this advice from the Book of Worship:
“Such special Sundays should never take precedence over the particular day in the Christian year. The special Sundays are placed on the calendar in the context of the Christian year, which is designed to make clear the calling of the Church as the people of God.” (UMBOW, 422).
Atmospherics: Called to Renounce
Throughout this season of Lent, these helps will help you develop worship around the theme, “Living Our Baptismal Calling.” Each week, the Scriptures highlight one element of our baptismal calling and invite us to live into it together. For Lent 1, we explore “Called to Renounce.”
Every year, Lent begins with the same story—Jesus’ temptation by and renunciation of Satan after a 40-day fast in the Judean desert. Lent begins this way not simply because the synoptic gospels begin their story of Jesus this way, but also because the baptismal covenant begins this way, too. The very first question Christians have historically asked, from the earliest forms of baptismal covenants to the present, is: “Do you renounce Satan and all his works?” (Some third- and fourth-century versions added, “and all his pomps.”) Though we use someone different language in our current ritual (“Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world and repent of your sin?”), the point is the same. The first Sunday in Lent is a clarion call for all present to declare renunciation of all other powers as the first act of faithfulness to the Christ who calls us to follow.
Renunciation is not simply an individual act, but an explicitly political one. It is a public declaration of a breach of allegiance. The first step toward life in God’s reign is a step away from life under the reign of Satan and the “powers of the air.” We recall in our first reading today we had first said yes to Satan in the garden. So before we can fully say yes to God now, we must first declare a resounding “No” to Satan and his ways.
That is the logic that lies behind what happens to Jesus in today’s gospel reading. For God’s Yes to Jesus at his own baptism to take him anywhere, his first action must be to prepare and learn to say No to Satan. The forty-day fast was the time of the preparation, at the end of which, though famished and physically diminished, Jesus was spiritually prepared for the strong temptations that followed.
The early church thus developed these forty days of Lent to prepare new candidates for baptism and re-prepare the whole congregation for our faithful discipleship to Jesus, beginning as he did, by learning to renounce Satan.
Three of today’s Scriptures remind us of the many venues in our lives where this renunciation must be made and kept. In Genesis, we begin in a garden full of everything needed to sustain us and nothing to harm us, with one exception: the poison of the tree of knowledge. In Psalm 32, we find ourselves inside the body of a person struggling with physical sin and sickness. In Matthew, we move from desert (verses 1-4), to the heart of Jerusalem (verses 5-7), to an unspecified high mountain (verses 8-10). Gardens, our bodies, deserts, cities, mountains—wherever we find ourselves, we have some renunciation to learn and practice.
In Your Planning Team
In which of these kinds of places do you or members of your congregation or community most regularly find yourselves tempted to follow a way other than the way of God’s kingdom, and so need to learn to practice renunciation?
1. Are you tempted by abundance to want more? How do you help one another practice renouncing the desire for more (pleonexia in Greek, often translated “greed”).
2. Are you struggling with temptations inside your body, or inside the structures of your congregation? How are you helping one another acknowledge, renounce and break free from addictions and compulsions in personal and corporate life?
3. Are you tempted by lack and a harsh environment not to listen for God’s word? How do you help one another learn to renounce self-reliance and rely on God at all times, including the lean and challenging times?
4. Are you tempted by prominence and fame? How are you helping one another learn to renounce calling attention to yourselves, but rather using any such attention that comes to you for the good of others?
5. Or are you tempted by the prospect of control over others? How do you help one another renounce the desire to rule while embracing the calling to lead?
After you’ve discussed these questions among yourselves, identify the one or two “besetting sins” the people of your worshiping community overall seem most to be struggling with. Use these to focus music, art, and sermon for worship today for the deepest impact, but find ways to raise all of these questions as well. No doubt across your team and certainly your congregation all of these will be represented, just some more frequently than others.
As a response to the word today, plan an act of renunciation. Consider using the first baptismal vow as a means to do so.
Then, after you help one another renounce together—candidates and long-time members alike— make time to announce any candidates for baptism or confirmation you may have, and invite the congregation to pray over them by name and lay hands on them. Pray for them again by name each Sunday during Lent until their baptism at Easter. If they have sponsor(s)/mentor(s) (and each should—not just parents for babies here!), pray for them by name, too. If you have a confirmation group, present them and announce the day of confirmation. For more information, including ritual resources and guidance, see Come to the Waters (Discipleship Resources, 1997), particularly Part II.
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The liturgy for Lent. Lent is neither all penitence nor an extended Holy Week! Jesus is not on the cross in any of the readings for this season until Palm/Passion Sunday and again on Good Friday. Keep that in mind as you plan music, prayers, and other elements for this season. Think of and plan for these Sundays based on the Scripture readings, and especially the gospel readings, for each week. Many of these are celebratory! Go where the Scriptures go—not some preconceived idea of penitence, suffering, denial or restraint. These are part of the daily disciplines of the season, to be sure, but Sunday worship in these weeks shows the whole round of our callings to live as those baptized into Jesus Christ.
Embodying the Word: The First Sunday in Lent, Year A
Today and throughout Lent, this section will focus on second movement of the basic pattern of our worship (see UMH pp. 2-5), and in particular the reading of Scripture in worship.
Lent is a season for hearing the Word of God in Scripture for its power to challenge, inspire and move us to new life and renewed life in Jesus Christ, to begin or deepen our life in the covenant of baptism. If there is a season where we are called to listen for God’s Word to transform us, this is it!
During these weeks, we will consider ways to help God’s word in Scripture be heard deeply by one and all.
Genesis 2 and Matthew 4 are such familiar stories that many will be tempted to tune out, figuring they already know what’s coming. Find three strong, expressive readers, perhaps an older adult, a younger adult and a child. Assign each a role: one as narrator, one as Eve/Jesus, and one as the serpent/devil. Offer the reading of these texts “reader’s theater” style—placing the readers in front of individual microphones and perhaps seated on tall stools. This is a reading—not drama. The readers “act” with their voices, and perhaps a bit with gestures. But let the focus be on the quality of the voices, or if your congregation contains a large number of deaf persons, on the quality and artistry of the signing. The point here is move the dialogical character of these stories into the forefront, so that the interests of all (storyteller plus the two characters) can be plainly discerned.
The Psalm today is a first-person narrative. Responsive reading really will not do for this. The narrative flow will be lost. And for this day the musical response supplied seems out of place. Have a reader rea , or better, a cantor sing the verses, and then sing a Taizé response (three times through at the beginning and at each response point indicated in the hymnal) such as “O Lord, Hear My Prayer” (TFWS 2200), “Bless the Lord, My Soul” (Upper Room Worshipbook 377) or ”O Christe Domine Jesu” (URWB 389). Keep the music for the Taizé chorus constantly in the background as the reader or cantor reads or sings the verses, and conclude by singing the Taizé response six times or as long as seems appropriate.
Romans presents special challenges for attentive listening for most people. Its form is that of a philosophical argument, and its use of lots of technical philosophical/theological language supports that form. There is only one speaker: Paul. Consider reading this text from a paraphrase, such as this one:
Sisters and brothers, here’s how God has saved us.
Sin entered the world through one man, Adam, long before the Law ever existed. That’s why everyone, even from Adam to Moses, before the Law existed, died—because sin produces death, and everyone has sinned, because Adam’s sin has infected us all.
But now God by a free gift of grace has used this same problem, where one person’s action can infect us all, to save us.
That one person is Jesus Christ.
In Adam’s sin, death was able to conquer the whole human race.
In Christ’s righteousness, God has lavished on us the free gift of grace so that we can all conquer sin and death.
In Adam’s disobedience, we all became sinners.
In Christ’s obedience, we can all be made righteous.
Thanks be to God!
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- BOW 327
- BOW 331
- BOW 333,(Matthew)
- BOW 335 (Romans)
- UMH 268
- Season of Ash and Fire, page 19.
Prayer of Confession:
- BOW 487 (Genesis)
- Prayer of Pardon: Last portion of BOW 475
- Confession and Pardon: BOW 476 or 477 (Romans)
- Invitation, Confession and Words of Assurance: See Season of Ash and Fire, page 20
- Canticle of Christ's Obedience: UMH 167 (Romans)
Prayer for Illumination: See Season of Ash and Fire, page 22.
Response to the Word: "Lord Jesus Christ, you refused," Stages on the Way, page 38.
Concerns and Prayers:
- BOW 514 (Romans, Matthew)
- BOW 520 (Matthew)
- BOW 522 (Seasonal)
- BOW 528 (Seasonal)
- See Season of Ash and Fire, pages 23-24.
- Stages on the Way, pages 33-34
- Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Myanmar, Thailand
Invitation to the Observance of Lenten Discipline: BOW 322
Prayer of Thanksgiving if the Lord's Supper is not celebrated:
- BOW 552
- See Season of Ash and Fire, p. 23.
- BOW 60-61 (Seasonal)
- A Contemporary Service of Holy Communion
Dismissal with Blessing:
- BOW 529 —If you are bold enough and if it commends itself to your people, try using the sign of the cross and inviting each person to sign himself or herself on the last line of this prayer.
- See Season of Ash and Fire, page 24.
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