I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this but it is my great pleasure to be able to lead God’s people in song. So, thanks for singing with me.
Yesterday, we sang the following songs. Of course, I’ll also attach a playlist but please, please, please I’m not kidding, purchase these songs if you like them:
- “Hosanna” by Paul Baloche
- “The Wonderful Cross” by Isaac Watts; chorus by Chris Tomlin/Matt Redman
- “Thank You, God, For Saving Me” by Chris Tomlin/Phil Wickham
- “Christ is Risen” by Matt Maher
- “God is Able” by Hillsong
I opened up our time of singing by quickly explaining what and why we were singing what we were singing. I’d like to further narrow in on the sequence of songs we sang yesterday.
The Wonderful Cross
One of my favorite Christian thinkers and writers out there currently is the editor-in-chief of Mockingbird, David Zahl. A few weeks back I had the pleasure of going to an event called “Love, Suffering, and Creativity: Creating in an Age of Spectacle” where he was one of three key-note speakers. The other speakers included Dustin Kensrue, who happens to write a bunch of the songs we sing, and Brett McCraken who wrote a book called “Hipster Christianity” which seems appropriate considering… Ahem…
Zahl had this to say:
The real tie between humans is not charity but death and original sin.
It was a heavy evening considering the topics – love, suffering, and creativity. In my mind I agree with Zahl, the only guarantees in life being death and taxes, right? But, it’s unpleasant to consider death. Macabre, somber, so let’s think on higher things. Yeah? No. Let’s camp here for a moment. In my introduction to the songs I mentioned Romans 6.23: For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
All week long we’ve worked overtime for a wage of Soul Gangrene. Nobody walks into service without a week’s worth of Stuff. We show up vulnerable, laid low by guilt and shame, our Stuff pressing heavy on our backs and bending us low. But the foot of the cross is level ground. We may show up bent low but so does everybody else; nobody stands tall in front of the cross.
The Stuff that bows us low crushed the Son of God. Jesus died. Which is insane, right?! The cross is where God thoroughly meets us where we are: working overtime for a wage of death.
Thank You, God, For Saving Me
The new song we sang this weekend opened with the lyrics:
What can I give to you? What can I offer to the King? For all the love You’ve shown, for all Your mercy over me?
God asks the same question in Psalm 50:
I have no need of a bull from your stall
or of goats from your pens,
for every animal of the forest is mine,
and the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know every bird in the mountains,
and the insects in the fields are mine.
If I were hungry I would not tell you,
for the world is mine, and all that is in it.
Do I eat the flesh of bulls
“Sacrifice thank offerings to God,
fulfill your vows to the Most High,
and call on me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you will honor me.”
I hope you’ve heard this maxim: “I don’t have a religion, I have a relationship” because well… Yeah. It’s sort of true. But like most things on the internet it needs nuance.
No ritual (religion) can satisfy what God requires of us because what could we give to God that He doesn’t already have? But what ritual does is prepare our hearts for what God wants – relationship. He asks for thanksgiving.
Gratitude is at the heart of relationship, it puts each participant in their rightful place: We are the recipients, God is the giver. Ritual can lead us to assume that we give something to God – a bull sacrfice, a good song, etc. But, gratitude assumes that we’ve only recieved from God. There’s no thing that could repay the debt of love we owe. Our earnings, our eternal stipened is death but the gift of God is eternal life.
So, what can we say but, “Thank you, God, for saving me.”
Christ is Risen
The opening lick of this song starts on a disonant note, a note that doesn’t belong where it is. It tugs at our ear. Like sin, it’s harsh, clashing against the way things should be. It doesn’t sound nice. But it leads up a scale, musically lifting us with it and we sing: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling over death by death.”
God is invisible, right? We cannot see Him, so we imagine what He must look like. The wandering Isarelites, newly freed from slavery, assumed He looked like a golden bull – a symbol of excess and strength, not unlike the gods of Egypt. The Renaissance artists assumed He was wise and enlightened like them. So they painted Him, seemingly in a cosmic brain, reaching down to give us wisdom and knowledge. And we imagine Him coming with strength and power, thunderously victorious over our enemies. Anne Lamott once remarked that “You can safely assume you’ve made God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
Christ is the image of the invisible God. Jesus dismantles all of our assumptions of Glory and Victory. He shows up as a baby, probably lots of crying he makes, in a nowhere town, in a forgotten corner of the Roman Empire, works a blue collar vocation, wanders around with some scrappy ne’er-do-wells, and then dies a criminal’s death.
Death is not defeated gloriously. It is defeated quietly in obscurity. Jesus didn’t show up and crush death, death crushed him. Victory hangs on a tree bleeding where the nails and thorns pierced his skin, the coarse wood scratching against the swelling wounds of his scourging. Death is not defeated with strength and power but by death.
But defeated it is. O Death, where is your sting? Hell! Where is your victory?
We do not move from glory to glory, we move through death to ressurection.