Listening to the Prophets: A Five-Week Series for Lent, page 1 of 2

As our church made its way through a yearlong focus on the Old Testament (see “From Adam to Jonah,” p. 10) we wanted to show the relationship between the Old and New Testaments during the seasons of the church year. It’s a challenge to take seasons like Advent and Lent, with their decidedly New Testament story lines, and remember them with Old Testament passages. But we felt the Old Testament could give us a fresh perspective on these New Testament stories. For example, during Advent we focused on the stories of King David, thinking about the type of king Israel was looking for. We wanted to take a similar Old Testament look at Lent. We were convinced that we could use some of the passages from the prophets to focus on why Jesus came to earth and on the need of God’s people, then and now, for God’s saving grace. So this set of services uses the Old Testament prophets to prepare us to hear the New Testament stories of Christ’s triumphal entry, death, and resurrection.

As we drew closer to Passion Week, we turned our attention to the New Testament stories in order to make explicit what we’d been preparing for. Doing so with the Old Testament backdrop gave the story new richness for us.

A few things are included in each of the services. For example, each service uses the gathering song “Holy, Holy, Holy, My Heart,” which has a connection with Isaiah 6. We altered the musical arrangement each week, using different sets of instruments to lead the congregation. We also used the song “What Wondrous Love” at a different point in the service each week. We continued our pattern of picking many of the responsive readings from the common lectionary in order to continue our connection to the larger community of worshipers throughout the world.

In our busy lives it’s easy to rush directly from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday without taking the time to go to the cross in between the two triumphal Sunday services. So we decided to have both a Maundy Thursday and Good Friday service to remind the congregation of Christ’s suffering. On Maundy Thursday we held a communion service in our church’s fellowship hall around tables. On Good Friday we heard the story of Christ’s death through a dramatic reading of the passion story from the gospel of Mark. (Neither of these services is included here.)



[Each week in our bulletin we included a note reminding the congregation of our worship theme.]

[At the beginning of each service, during the prelude, a third grader came forward to light the candle, helping the congregation recognize that the light of God’s Word draws us to God as we gather together. At the end of the service, during the closing song, the same child extinguished the candle.

We had some wonderful moments during this ceremony as children enjoyed this opportunity to represent the congregation. When new candles that were too tall for the children to light comfortably were placed in front of the church, we asked a parent to walk down the aisle as well and to assist as needed. The visual image of the parent helping the young child light the candle reminded us of our commitment to the covenant and to including children in worship.

The service of confession and forgiveness has special emphasis during Lent. Because of the celebration of the Lord’s Supper during this service, the section on confession and forgiveness was included in the communion litany.]

Gathering Song: “Holy, Holy, Holy, My Heart” SNC 19 (see RW 62, p. 38)

[This song is a sweeping, gentle prayer of adoration to the Lord. The text echoes the words of Isaiah 6, the text for the morning, and serves as a way to enter the service turning our attention to the Lord. We introduced the song with flute and piano so that the congregation could hear the simple melody (which wasn’t familiar to them) before they were asked to sing. The instruments also gave us a chance to center our thoughts on the praise of the Lord. The text then allowed us to gently and carefully put ourselves into the Isaiah passage. In addition to the text drawing our attention to the Lord and to our corporate worship, the style of the music draws us to a personal time of reflection and holiness as well.]

Responsive Reading from Isaiah 6

I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;

The whole earth is full of his glory!

The whole earth is full of his glory!

Almighty God, whose glory fills the whole earth, give us faith to perceive your glory and to receive your Son who displayed your glory on the cross. Change us into his likeness, who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever.


Song: “All Glory Be to God on High” PsH 247, PH 133, RL 620

[Our opening song was written by a contemporary composer; this second song expresses a similar sense of praise and honor, this time using a tune that is much older.]

God’s Greeting

The Lord be with you.

And also with you.

Our help comes from the Lord,

the maker of heaven and earth.

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours, from God the

Father Almighty, from the lord Jesus Christ, and from the Holy Spirit.

[We used this greeting each week; it’s one we use in our children’s worship centers and in the sanctuary as well when we can. Often, at this point in our service, we invite the congregation to greet those around them. During Lent we wanted our service to be more subdued and reflective in nature and so we suspended this practice.]

Prayer for Illumination

Isaiah 6:1-13

Sermon: The Shaking of the Temple

Notes: Apparently the Lord wanted Judah to hear the bad news before they could hear the good. Judah had to hear the no before they could hear the yes. The great oak had to become a stump, so that a shoot could come forth.

In the season of Lent, the church reenacts the no. We stare long and hard at the cross. For there—just like Isaiah in the temple—we are in the presence of glory where we can only fall on our faces and cry, “Woe is me!” Let us not rush on too quickly to Sunday. The yes will surely come. But first the no.

Song: “What Wondrous Love” PsH 379, PH 85, SFL 169, TH 261, TWC 212

The Lord’s Supper

The Litany of Penitence

Let us pray.

Holy and merciful God, we confess to you and to one another and to the whole communion of saints in heaven and on earth, that we have sinned by our own fault in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.

We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have not forgiven others as we have been forgiven.

Have mercy on us, O God.

We have not listened to your call to serve as Christ served us. We have not been true to the mind of Christ. We have grieved your Holy Spirit.

Have mercy on us, O God.
We confess to you, O God, all our past unfaithfulness: the pride, hypocrisy, and impatience in our lives,

we confess to you, O God.

Our self-indulgent ways and our exploitation of other people,

we confess to you, O God.

Our anger at our own frustration and our envy of those more fortunate than ourselves,

we confess to you, O God.

Our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and our dishonesty in daily life and work,

we confess to you, O God.

Our negligence in prayer and worship, and our failure to commend the faith that is in us,

we confess to you, O God.

For all false judgments, for uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors, and for our prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from us,

accept our repentance, O God.

For our waste and pollution of your creation and our lack of concern for those who come after us,

accept our repentance, O God.

Restore us, O God, and let your anger depart from us.

Hear us, O God, for your mercy is great.

Accomplish in us, O God, the work of your salvation,

that we may show forth your glory in the world.

By the cross and passion of our Savior,

bring us with all your saints to the joy of Christ’s resurrection. Amen.

[For this service we extended the litany of penitence, adapting passages from various sections of the Book of Common Worship, Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993.]

The Invitation
Hear the gracious words of our Savior: Come to me, all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Song: “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” PsH 383, PH 98, RL 300, TH 247, TWC 221

The Great Thanksgiving

The Lord be with you.

And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.

We lift them up to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

It is right to give our thanks and praise.

It is truly right and our greatest joy to give you thanks and praise, O Lord our God, creator and ruler of the universe. In your wisdom you made all things and sustain them by your power. When we rebelled against you, you did not reject us. You sent prophets to call us back to your way. Then, in the fullness of time, out of your great love for the world, you sent your only Son to be one of us, to redeem us and heal our brokenness. Therefore we praise you, joining our voices to those who forever sing to the glory of your name:

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.

Great is the mystery of faith:

Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

Praise to you, Lord Jesus:

dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life. Lord Jesus, come in glory.

According to his commandment:

we remember his death, we proclaim his resurrection, we await his coming in glory.

The Institution

We give thanks that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread and, after giving thanks to you, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying: Take, eat. This is my body, given for you. Do this in remembrance of me. In the same way he took the cup, saying: This cup is the new covenant sealed in my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Whenever you drink it, do this in remembrance of me. The gifts of God for the people of God.



[During the passing of the elements, the congregation is invited to sing the refrain of “Eat This Bread” (SNC 254) once and then after each stanza sung by a soloist.]

God’s Parting Blessing

Song: “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty” PsH 249, PH 138, RL 611, TH 100, TWC 2 (st. 4)

[We ended the service where we began, with a song about the holiness of God and his mighty work in our lives, echoing the words of the gathering song, the reading from Isaiah 6, and the sermon.]

Gathering Song: “Holy, Holy, Holy, My Heart”

[This week we introduced the melody with violin playing the melody and guitar accompaniment.]

Responsive Reading from Isaiah 40

Comfort, comfort my people says your God.

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

A voice of one calling: In the desert prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.

Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.

And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people together will see it.

For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.


God of all times and places, who makes our paths straight and our rugged places plain; in Jesus Christ, lifted up on the cross, you opened for us the path to eternal life. Grant that we may faithfully walk in your holy ways; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.


Song: “I Greet My Sure Redeemer” PsH 248

[The responsive reading, the prayer, and the song are all based on Isaiah 40 and set the stage for our meditation on the words of Isaiah.]

God’s Greeting

Litany of Confession (from Psalm 22, NRSV)

All sing Refrain: “What Wondrous Love” (first two lines of st. 1)

Voice 1: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.

Voice 2: Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not disappointed.

Voice 1: But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads; “Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”

Voice 2: Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast. On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God. Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.

All sing Refrain.

Voice 1: I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!

Voice 2: For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him. From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him. The poor will eat and be satisfied; those who seek the Lord will praise him. May your hearts live forever!

All sing Refrain.

Announcement of Forgiveness

Song: “Lift High the Cross” PsH 373, PH 371, RL 415, TH 263, TWC 229

[By choosing a song that specifically mentions the cross, we make the connection between our Old Testament focus and Lent more explicit.]

Prayer for Illumination

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 50:1-11

Sermon: Bloody Backs and Pulled-out Beards

Notes: Judah is in exile in Babylon. Now they need a word of hope. That hope would come through a Deliverer. But that Deliverer would be a servant. Already the paradox of the Christian faith is introduced—and immediately misunderstood. Deliverance comes through pain; salvation through a cross. Life comes from death.

Jesus came as a slave, he said, not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. So here is the second irony of the Christian faith: If any would come after me, says Jesus, they must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow him. Jesus opens a way to heaven. But the way there is the way of the cross.



Song: “Man of Sorrows, What a Name” PsH 482

God’s Parting Blessing

Song: “O Love, How Deep, How Broad, How High” PsH 364, PH 83, RL 342, TH 155 (st. 1-3, 6)

Gathering Song: “Holy, Holy, Holy, My Heart”

[To introduce the song this week, a trio of young women sang it through once before the congregation joined.]

Responsive Reading from Isaiah 55:6, 1 Corinthians 1, and the Prayer of St. John’s Abbey

Seek the Lord while he may be found;

Call on him while he is near.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. Let us glory in the cross of Jesus Christ. Through him we have salvation.

Cross of Christ, tree of hope.

For us he became obedient even to death on a cross. Because of this God exalted him above every name. See if there is any wicked way in me.

Cross of Christ, tree of hope, wisdom of God.

When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all to myself.

Cross of Christ, tree of hope, wisdom of God. We worship and praise you, O Christ; by your cross the world is redeemed.


God of strength and mercy, grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of Jesus Christ our Savior; through whom in the Holy Spirit we pray.


Song: “Isaiah the Prophet Has Written of Old” PsH 616, PH 337

God’s Greeting

Call to Confession from Isaiah 55

As we turn our hearts to the Lord in a time of confession we remember the words of the prophet Isaiah: Seek the Lord while he may be found, call on him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. Let us look to the Lord in a time of personal confession.

[silent prayer]

Let us pray together:

Most merciful God, we your church confess that often our spirit has not been that of Christ. Where we have failed to love each other as he loved us, where we have pledged loyalty to him with our lips and then betrayed, deserted, or denied him, forgive us. By your Spirit make us faithful in every time of trial, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Song: “What Wondrous Love” (st. 1-2)

Announcement of Grace from Isaiah 55 and Romans 8

Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! For those whom God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Song: “What Wondrous Love” (st. 3-4)

Prayer for Illumination

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 55:1-13

Sermon: On Being Cheerful in Lent

Notes: God made a covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, with Jacob, with Moses and Joshua. And despite their present devastation, the Lord would restore the fortunes of his people. That promise also comes to us, the new Israel. It is the same God whose promises do not fail.

The Lord Jesus summons us to touch, to taste and see, to come to the water, to get bread without money. Come to the banquet. Come and eat. See that the Lord is good. With that invitation and that promise, we can face dark times with a quiet joy and a deep confidence.



Song: “How Firm a Foundation” PsH 500, PH 361, RL 172, TH 94, TWC 612 (st. 1, 4-5)

God’s Parting Blessing

Song: “The Trees of the Field” PsH 197, SFL 196, TWC 272

[The text for this song comes from Isaiah 55.]

Gathering Song: “Holy, Holy, Holy, My Heart”

[This week an unaccompanied solo voice introduced the song.]

Responsive Reading from Isaiah 42

This is what God the Lord says—

he who created the heavens and stretched them out,

who spread out the earth and all that comes out of it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it:

I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand.

I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles,

to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison, and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.


God of righteousness, who created the heavens, open our eyes that we may see your glory and refine us to be made more worthy of you. Help us to remember your covenant with us, your people. In your Holy Spirit we pray.


God’s Greeting

Prayers of Confession

All sing Refrain: “Jesus, Remember Me” SNC 143

Leader: Lord Jesus, in your shame-filled suffering, your disciples, your closest friends did not come to help you. When you went to pray, to agonize over the cross, your friends slept. They could not muster strength to watch and pray with you. Lord, often we too exhibit indifference to the suffering of others and a dullness for what so passionately concerns you. Lord Jesus, do not hold our sins again us and grant us your mercy.

All sing Refrain.

Leader: Lord Jesus, in your shame-filled suffering, Peter grew confused, disillusioned, afraid. When identified as your disciple, he swore that he did not know you—not once, but three times. Lord, we too falter when boldness is called for. We would rather blend in than stand up in faith. Lord Jesus, in your mercy do not hold our sins against us and grant us your mercy.

All sing Refrain.

Leader: Lord Jesus, in your shame-filled suffering, when they came to arrest you, your disciples were afraid. They ran and left you standing alone with your enemies. We wonder how you feel when we willfully take leave of our faith, when we slide away into the darkness of our doubts, when we hear you call us but run the other way. Lord Jesus, do not hold our sins against us and grant us your mercy.

All sing Refrain.

Announcement of Grace from Luke 23:43

“I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Song: “According to Thy Gracious Word” PsH 298 (st. 1, 3-4)

Prayer for Illumination

Scripture Reading: Malachi 2:17-3:16

Sermon: A Scroll of Remembrance

Notes: Judah had returned from exile, but they had once against lapsed into a sort of formalism in their covenant life with God. They were going through the motions.

In the course of the lament for his uncommitted people, the Lord brings out a scroll. Let me show you how much you mean to me, God says. Here is the record of who I love and what I will do for my chosen. Your name is on it! I made a covenant with you and I intend to keep it forever!

Robert ( and Laura ( Keeley are codirectors of children’s ministries at Fourteenth Street Christian Reformed Church, Holland, Michigan. Robert is also a professor of education at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Marvin J. Hofman ( is pastor of Fourteenth Street Christian Reformed Church, Holland, Michigan.


Reformed Worship 70 © December 2003, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.