Music of the Month: Five Lenten Hymns for Two-Part Choir

Five Lenten Hymns for Two-Part Choir is a collection of five two-part choir settings highlighting new hymn texts for Lent by hymn writers such as Lisa M. Clark and Stephen P. Starke. The music includes optional congregation stanzas and features settings by Benjamin M. Culli, Jonathan Kohrs, Matthew Machemer, and Jacob B. Weber. Choirs and congregations will find these pieces to be well-crafted while remaining approachable during the busy season of Lent.

“‘Behold! The Lamb of God,’ John Said”

“‘Behold! The Lamb of God,’ John Said” is a Lenten text written by Stephen P. Starke, set by Jacob B. Weber for organ and two-part voices to the tune REALITY. The tune already has a Lenten connotation; it’s the tune for “In Silent Pain the Eternal Son” (Lutheran Service Book 432).

The first stanza contains three of the key phrases we hear during the Lenten season: “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes all sin away” (John the Baptist identifying the Christ in John 1:29); “Behold your King!” (Pilate to the crowds in John 19:14); and “Crucify!” (The crowds in response to Pilate in John 19:15).

These phrases are essential to the Passion narrative and seminal to this text. Stanza 2 contains two phrases that originate with Christ’s words:

“The Way—of justice was deprived;

The Truth—was overrun;

The Life—was all from Christ derived;

God glorifies His Son!” (from John 14:6)


“‘I am the Bread of Life,’ Christ said;

‘My sacred blood, for all I shed;

Who eats and drinks of Me is fed’” (from John 6:35)

The concluding two stanzas provide a reflection on these words from John, Pilate, the crowds, and Christ. These words all point to the perfect sacrifice on Calvary’s cross and the victorious resurrection from the tomb on the third day.

“Behold the Man before You”

“Behold the Man before You” is a Passiontide text written by Lisa M. Clark in a setting for piano and two-part voices composed by Matthew Machemer. The tune is called ECCE (Latin for “behold”).

The opening phrase “Behold the man” recalls Pilate’s declaration to the crowds in John 19:5 as he presented Jesus in a crown of thorns and a purple robe. The entire text is written as an imperative address; it draws both singer and listener in, inviting them to behold, come, watch, wait, and ultimately, confess the Christ, who suffered, died, and rose from the dead.

The setting deviates from common time in the fourth stanza, where it moves to six-eight meter and features a musical motive on the Lenten tune O TRAURIGKEIT (“O Darkest Woe” LSB 448). The fifth stanza settles back into the 4/4 tune with a descant.

“Break Your Hearts”

“Break Your Hearts” is an Ash Wednesday text written by Lisa M. Clark and set for organ and two-part voices to the original tune TRUE REPENTANCE by Jonathan Kohrs. The opening phrase “Break your hearts with mourning” echoes the appointed Psalm for Ash Wednesday: “A broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” (Psalm 51:17).

The first stanza continues with language familiar to Ash Wednesday: “Ash and grief adorning / Your repentance true” and “To your Lord return” (Joel 2:12). The second and third stanzas expand into themes native to the entire Lenten season: the Savior’s passion, the redemption He secured, and the call to the nations to return to the crucified and risen Lord.

The tune TRUE REPENTANCE features lovely ascending and descending sequences both in the vocal and accompaniment lines. Set in f-minor, the setting strikes a solemn and penitential tone without being ponderous.

“One House Abides Unending”

“One House Abides Unending” is a Lenten text written by Rachel Crane and set by Benjamin M. Culli to the original tune LONE OAKS. The text concentrates on mankind’s fall into sin, the corruption that it brings, and the justification and sanctification achieved by Christ’s Passion.

The musical setting alternates between d-minor and D-major, illustrating the paradox between—as the fourth stanza expresses—ash and beauty, grief and joy. The piece ends on a triumphal note, looking with anticipation “to holy Easter’s hail.”

“Our Eyes Behold the Savior’s Face”

“Our Eyes Behold the Savior’s Face” is a Lenten text written by Lisa M. Clark and set for piano and voices to the original tune OCULI by Matthew Machemer. The first two words “Our eyes” and the tune name OCULI (Latin for “eyes”) establish the motif for the text, and they echo both the Lenten Psalm, “My eyes are ever toward the LORD” (Psalm 25:15), and the Lenten Gradual, “O come, let us fix our eyes on Jesus.” 

Each of the stanzas begins with a different variation on the motif: “Our eyes / Our focus / Our sights / Our vision / Our view.” Each time, the object is an aspect of the Christian’s Lenten devotion: “The Savior’s face / The One / The cross / sin and fears / The coming Day.”

This motif is fitting for the Christian during Lententide. We confess Jesus suffered, died, and rose in His actual body. The fleshliness of His death is quite real, and our response to His Passion is also physical: to look upon Him and His Passion.

This also provides a fitting meditation for church musicians during the season. Amid the busyness of preparing for services, assembling ensembles, and practicing music, the reminder to fix our eyes on Jesus and behold the Savior’s face is especially timely.

Scripture: ESV®.

Try these five settings at your church by ordering the collection below.

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Written by

Nathan Grime

Nathan Grime is from Fort Wayne, Indiana. He is a 2020 graduate of Hillsdale College, where he studied rhetoric, public address, and journalism. Nathan is the fifth and sixth grade teacher at Our Savior Lutheran School in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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