Now that I'm all caught up, I figure it would be good to not wait a month before posting again. Consistency...that's the goal...
Two weeks ago was was Holy Week. Church wise, Holy Week is my favorite week of the year. It is power-packed with goodness. Sure, I love the Christmas pageant, the Christmas Eve service, the general spirit of Advent, the deep mystery of the Incarnation, the Christmas carols. There isn't much that tops Christmas. But it's Holy Week that houses my favorite service of the year: Good Friday.
Maybe that's weird. Maybe it's strange that I look forward to a service that centers around the death of Jesus, that focuses on His agony and barely even glimpses to Sunday morning so as not to rush too quickly from death to resurrection. Historically, I have not enjoyed Good Friday services. I much prefer the Easter Eve vigil type of service, one that is triumphant and celebratory and even somewhat raucous in its exultation. But for the past two years, my church has celebrated Good Friday in a very particular way. Last year we went through the 7 words of Christ from the cross. This year, we did 8 stations of the cross, following Christ's journey from Pilot's sentence to Jesus' death.
I've been to 3-hour-long Good Friday services where several local churches come together and the pastors each share a mini-sermon on one or two of the last words of Christ. From what I remember, those services were dry and dull and intentionally depressing. Granted, I was young. Even now, I don't really do "sad" well and even less so then when I would rather be skipping around sheep fields in my pigtails than sitting inside a dark church on a beautiful spring day that I had off of school.
But my church goes through these meditations through the eyes of lay people, each sharing their insights and gifts in a different way. Each person has a different perspective, a different way of looking at Good Friday. And even though each person and each reflection is so unique, the service flows together seamlessly, a perfect tapestry displaying the beauty of the body of Christ. It is deeply beautiful and profoundly powerful. This service models what I think the Church should look like, each person using his or her gifts to benefit the rest of the community.
This year, we included several art-based reflections: two drawings and a song. Music is a staple of any Christian gathering, but I loved the presence and valuing of physical art in the service. Recently, Andy Crouch came to Gordon College and spoke about culture-making and the need for the local church to encourage and promote all sorts of making. This is an issue that is very close to my heart. I struggle a lot with what it means to be a Christian artist...not a person who produces art that has outright Christian themes and messaging, but a Christian who is also an artist (or an artist who is also a Christian) and the intersection of those two classifications. I struggle with how so labeled "Christian art" is often of a lesser quality than what those outside of the church are producing. I blame this somewhat on limited resources but Christians are plugged into the ultimate resource: an infinitely creative God. So that is really no excuse. I think the bigger issue is that the church is very good at accepting people's "offerings" of their gifts and encouraging them for trying. This is evidenced by church camp talent shows where the people who get the loudest applause are those who are trying rather than succeeding. We celebrate their courage and their effort. We're good at doing that, and that's good. But I think we fall short in two equally important and equally compassionate areas: 1) guiding people who are not gifted in certain areas toward areas in which they are gifted, and 2) training up and encouraging people who are gifted in certain areas to become more excellent and promoting excellence as a worthy and God-glorifying value. Okay, I'm going to end my soapbox rant there and go back to the Good Friday service...
Last year, I put together a masterpiece I entitled "The Blood Medley." It is an arrangement of all of the best good old Methodist blood hymns: Nothing but the Blood, When I Survey, Hallelujah What a Savior (Yes, I used a song with Hallelujah during Lent. All you good high church people, know that I struggled with this and found it to be unavoidable.), There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood, Are You Washed in the Blood of the Lamb, and And Can It Be. Because I was working with such quality source material, The Blood Medley is nothing short of brilliant. Solid gold.
My pastor asked me to do The Blood Medley again the next time we did Communion at church. Sadly, though brilliant, The Blood Medley is also very vocally challenging, and it requires two voices, and every time communion rolled around (which is sadly only once a month), either Jason or I was sick and incapable of producing the necessary vocal range for a performance worthy of The Blood Medley in all its glory. This was the case for this year's Good Friday service as well. Sorry, Blood Medley. You'll have to lie dormant for at least another month.
This year, I was asked not to provide a bonus musical number but rather to give one of the actual meditations in song form. My station was the crucifixion, Jesus being nailed to the cross, the thieves on His right and left, the mocking of the crowd. I've been thinking about the song for weeks. I wanted to write a hymn. I had the opening line of each verse and a haunting melody that is probably a combination of several hymn melodies already in existence. I had a framework for what I wanted each verse to communicate. I had a few ideas for words and lines that fit in my rhythmic scheme. So I figured it would be a relatively easy song to write. I would string together some of the best loved phrases from the classic hymns and paint them into a new story. Well, an old story but told in a new way, like those photo mosaics that use tiny photographs to recreate a classic image (like this one)...existing pieces of art used together in a new way to display a grander scheme. So with so many puzzle pieces in hand, I thought this would be an easy song to write. Just put it all together and fill in the gaps. Easy peasy, right? Wrong.
I had the hardest time bringing it all together. I just couldn't communicate what I wanted to communicate. I spent a long time bashing myself on the head with this song. I asked Jason for help. We talked through the significance of the crucifixion, the depths of Christ's suffering, the deep realities of the cross. And the song just wouldn't write. So I walked away from it for a few days, weeks, whatever. And then Good Friday came up and I still didn't have a song for the service that night. So I sat down and I tried again.
It's generally hard for me to get in the spirit of Good Friday. There is a part of me that minimalizes Christ's suffering on the cross because I feel like anything is endurable for a short amount of time, especially when you know it won't last forever and something good will come out of it and you'll be fully restored in the end. In a season marked by an unclear future and purpose--a season in which I feel like swiss cheese and uncertainty is the holes--the cross does not stir the proper emotions of compassion and conviction because Jesus knew it didn't end there. He knew the victory to come. He knew the pain wouldn't last forever. Maybe I'm wrong about that. Maybe His scars still burn with the sins of the world. I don't know. Maybe that's completely theologically off-base. But all that being said, I had a very hard time writing a stirring song about the crucifixion.
So I decided to scrap it all, all the partial verses I had trudged through, the neat little framework I had built. And I added a chorus. A simple, "Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy on me." I ended up scrapping the chorus for the final performance of the song, but it was a necessary starting point in writing the song...the pencil lines behind the sketch that made the whole thing meaningful for me. And I started writing.
As I wrote, I was called to remember that the hands and feet that bore the nails belonged to a Person. And not just any person...a Person who performed miracles with those very same hands and feet. I thought about the people He healed, the children He encountered, His gentle touch as He imparted healing and love and forgiveness for sins. I remembered the places He walked, the dust He gathered on His sandaled feet and the hems of His robes. I remembered that He was a person. A person who went places and did amazing things. And how tragic it was for His followers, His friends, the world, to lose such a person as that to a bloody and humiliating death.
I remembered the mocking. I condemned the mockers for their impudence and audacity. How dare they shout curses at a dying, seemingly helpless man, let alone a man they bowed down and worshiped days before? I was angry at them. Disgusted. Ready to call down fire from heaven.
I wanted to remind those people about just Who it was that they were crucifying. I wanted them to know that they were killing and cursing the Person who gave them life and held more power than they could imagine. I wanted them to know that He was innocent and they were guilty. And that's why He was dying before their eyes.
And then I tried to imagine the baseness and hardness of heart that would stir those people to be so angry and cruel. I thought about their expectations of Messiah, their oppression from the Romans, their hope that He would come and free them from years of subjection and derision and restore them to a favor with God that would be witnessed and feared by their captors. They wanted justice, violent and triumphant justice. They expected a conquering King. And He was finally there. They knew the kind of power He had displayed. And then they saw Him hanging on a cross, giving up on the cause, not fighting back...silent like a lamb being led to slaughter. Powerless. Weak. A failure. Their deepest longings, all their hopes and expectations, all the ways they dreamed the prophesies would be fulfilled, were hanging on a Roman cross. And to them, that meant that this man was not the Christ as He had claimed to be. And to lie about something so sacred, to manipulate their deepest and most heartfelt expectations, was a sin guilty of a public and torturous death. I don't know anger or indignation that would compel me to mock a dying man. But I do know what it's like to have an expectation of what it will look like when God shows up, to feel as though He has promised me grand deliverance, and to have my hopes thoroughly disappointed. I know that it doesn't make me sad. It makes me angry. It makes me question who God says He is. It makes me feel as though I am entitled to a more powerful God. And now I know, that when I demand anything of God other than Who He is and what He does, it makes me just like those people shouting at Jesus to come down off the cross and save Himself. He could have. But He didn't. And those people are the reason. I am the reason. He cared more about saving me than about sparing Himself. His desire and passion for a restored relationship with His creation was greater than the pain, the shame, the death. And that is why the cross is a symbol of strength and of victory. Because He was able to forsake and restrain His power and to love a twisted and corrupted people and to say, "Father, forgive them. They don't know what they're doing."
And it is in that spirit that I wrote this song and that I now share it with you. Without any further ado, I give you my Good Friday offering...
"They Nailed My Jesus to a Cross"
They nailed my Jesus to a cross.
They nailed His hands and feet,
The hands that made the leper clean
And caused the blind to see,
The feet that walked upon the waves,
Those wondrous feet and hands
now covered with Messiah's blood.
Behold! The Son of Man.
They nailed my Jesus to a cross,
A thief on either side.
And all around the crowd demands
My Lord be crucified.
He could have called the angels down
So justice would be served,
But He Himself bore all the wrath
Their guilty souls deserved.
They nailed my Jesus to a cross,
God's one and only Son,
Light of the world, the Word made flesh,
The Christ, the Holy One.
Behold Him now, the mighty King,
His glory veiled in shame.
My Lord was broken and condemned
Though I deserve the blame.
I nailed my Jesus to a cross.
'Twas I who drove the nails
With all my sin and all my pride
And all the ways I've failed.
Yet Jesus looks down from the cross,
So ready to forgive.
He says, "My child, do not fear.
I died so you could live."
Once again, this is a weak and partial half-disclosure. Without the intro, the melody, Jason's brilliant piano accompaniment, this is just a poem, and not an excellent one at that. I felt bound, limited within the constructs of the song. There's so much more I wanted to communicate. I found myself repeatedly complaining, "There just isn't enough room!" Maybe the chorus would have helped that. Maybe not. But there you have it. Another song. My 3rd in 8 weeks of this 2nd year of weekly makes. I've had one awful, one brilliant, and one good enough. Which is exciting to me after a full year of creativity unmarked by music. I might finish this song with a resurrection verse. Maybe not. We'll see. I think if I went back to it, I would feel the need to edit, which is not fun for me, so I probably won't. But the song served its Good Friday purpose. And it gave Jason and I another opportunity to play an original song together, which I just loved. So I am satisfied.