Lenten worship: We sing “a theology of the cross”
In recent years mid-week worship services at Grace during Lent and Advent have taken their themes from hymns, often hymns from another culture or musical tradition. This year’s Wednesday evening Lenten worship services will use a new hymn from the Lutheran tradition,“Holy God, Holy and Glorious” with a text by Susan Briehl, a Lutheran pastor. The hymn is included in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006).
Briehl, author of books and many texts for worship songs, wrote this hymn as a poem for her friend Paul Nelson, another pastor, “as he grew mysteriously weaker and weaker” from a lengthy illness. “Paul proclaimed Christ to me and to many in his dying, just as he had in his living,” Briehl says in her background notes to the hymn. “The hymn sings what Martin Luther called a theology of the cross. God’s glory and majesty are hidden under their opposites.”
Stanza 2, above, recalls the early Christian hymn quoted by St. Paul in the second chapter of his letter to the Philippians:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
Other stanzas of the hymn explore similar contradictions: God’s glory revealed when Jesus entered human time as a baby, God’s wisdom made known in the folly of the cross, God’s beauty shown in the despised and rejected form of the crucified Christ. This is, as Paul says, “a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” (1 Corinthians 18:23) Yet this is the living God made known to us in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
During Ash Wednesday services on March 5 the pastors will mark worshipers’ foreheads with crosses of ashes and say to each one, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” In the weeks of Lent that follow we will contemplate how God’s glory, power, beauty, wisdom, and life are shown to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.