Planning for the First Sunday in Lent

Posted by Andrew R. Jones on Jan 8, 2018 12:15:00 PM
Planning for the First Sunday in Lent

Learn more about the readings, music, and worship-service planning helps for the First Sunday in Lent (February 18, 2018).

Season & Preparations

In Gathered Guests, Timothy Maschke describes the season of Lent as a time of preparation for baptismal candidates before Baptism at the Easter Vigil. He then writes this:

In AD 325, the Council of Nicaea recorded the first reference to the specific number of days for Lent: forty. Later, these forty days were associated with Jesus’ forty days in the desert prior to His temptation (Matthew 4) and to the forty years the children of Israel spent in the wilderness (Numbers 14:34). (p. 66)

You may notice that Lent lasts longer than forty days. The Sundays in Lent are not counted as part of the forty-day season. If you list the Sunday of the Church Year in your bulletin, pay attention to the prepositions. Maschke writes, “Interestingly, the Sundays during this season are not ‘of Lent’ but ‘in Lent.’ Thus the Sundays retain an Easter tone and may be less solemn than the midweek services that Lutheran congregations typically offer” (pp. 66–67).

The parament color during Lent is violet or purple. It is a common custom in Lutheran congregations to decorate the cross (or an extra cross used only during Lent and Easter) with a violet cloth that is changed to black on Good Friday and to white or gold on Easter Sunday.

Though Sundays remain celebratory in character, it is a common practice to omit the Gloria in Excelsis and any hymn, song, or liturgical element with the word Alleluia in it. This means the Hymn of Praise will be omitted. The Alleluia and Verse will be omitted or changed to the Lenten response. And the Post-Communion Canticle will not be “Thank the Lord” (which contains alleluias) but rather the Nunc Dimittis or another appropriate hymn.

Readings & Theme

The readings for Lent 1 reflect themes of trial and temptation, fasting and faith, repentance and remembrance. Psalm 25:1–10 reflects these themes as David confesses his trust in God, his desire to follow God, and his longing for God to remember His mercy and not the sins of David’s youth.

These themes continue in the Old Testament Reading, from Genesis 22, which records the testing of Abraham as God tells him to sacrifice his son Isaac. Abraham proceeds in faith, but God prevents the death of Isaac and provides a substitute for Isaac in the form of a ram.

The Epistle, from James 1, speaks of remaining faithful under trial and testing. And the Gospel, from Mark 1, records the Baptism and temptation of Jesus, followed by the beginning of His ministry. Jesus is tempted by Satan for forty days in the wilderness, an embodiment of the Lenten season. The reading concludes with these Lenten words of Jesus: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (v. 15).

Hymns & Music

Though it is associated with Reformation Sunday in many Lutheran congregations, the Hymn of the Day is “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” (LSB 656/657). Stanza 1 highlights the temptation theme of the day. Note the reference in the final line: Luther writes of Satan, “On earth is not his equal” (LSB 656:1). God says to Job of Leviathan, “On earth there is not his like, a creature without fear. He sees everything that is high; he is king over all the sons of pride” (Job 41:33–34).

Other Lenten hymns featuring the temptation theme include “O Lord, throughout These Forty Days” (LSB 418), “Jesus, Refuge of the Weary” (LSB 423), and “O Christ, You Walked the Road” (LSB 424).

When choosing Distribution Hymns, remember to watch for alleluias and avoid such hymns if you wish to follow that custom. Of the hymns in “The Lord’s Supper” section of Lutheran Service Book, you only need to avoid “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” (LSB 621) and “At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing” (LSB 633).

Additional Resources for Worship & Study

Many people choose a series for Lenten worship, which may begin on Ash Wednesday or the following Sunday. This year's featured series is Return from Exile: A Lenten JourneyThe series includes downloadable service planning helps, preprinted bulletins, and a daily devotional that can be distributed to congregation members.

Looking for additional information on planning for the First Sunday in Lent? Download our planning sheet to help you get started!

Download Planning Sheet


Quotations from Gathered Guests, 2nd edition, by Timothy H. Maschke, copyright © 2003, 2009 Timothy H. Maschke. Published by Concordia Publishing House. Used by permission.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Quotations marked LSB are from Lutheran Service Book, copyright © 2006 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Tags: Lenten Season, Service Planning