Monthly Archives: March 2012

Nothin’ but the Blood

this artwork comes from Kate Hull Designs

…the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness…so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people…” Hebrews 9:22&28

 

Oh precious is the flow

That makes me white as snow

No other Fount I know…

Nothin’ but the blood of Jesus…

 

Macbeth is my favourite tragedy – odd as that sounds. It is such a rich, cautionary tale; one that speaks so clearly to the consequences of one’s “vaulting ambition.” But it is Lady Macbeth who is most striking. By the end of the play when the fabric of their murder plot unravels, she is driven mad by her guilt.

Out, damn’d spot! Out I say…What, will these hands ne’er be clean?…Here’s the smell of the blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. O, O, O! (V,I)

Vancouver's Bard on the Beach is putting on Macbeth this summer.

Well, we’re all Lady Macbeth, aren’t we?  We’re all sinners, all guilty, all covered in blood. If we were left in such a state, it would drive us mad. Who could bear it?

What can wash away my sin? What can make me whole again?

Nothin’. Nothin’!

Nothin’ but the blood of Jesus, that is.  Jesus, the perfect High Priest, “entered the Most Holy Place once and for all, by his own blood… How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit, offered himself unblemished to God, cleans our consciences form acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (9:14)

artwork from godartist

What can one say to that, except this:

Now by this I’ll overcome
Now by this I’ll reach my home
Glory, glory, this I see
All my praise for this I bring

Prolific hymn-writer and pastor, Robert Lowry (who also wrote such favourites as We’re Marching to Zion, I Need Thee Every Hour, All the way my Saviour Leads Me and Shall We Gather at the River) penned these words in 1876, near the end of his 73 years on earth.  He wrote more than 500 songs but was sad when he became known for his song writing rather than his preaching. He once stated: “Music, with me has been a side issue… I would rather preach a gospel sermon to an appreciative audience than write a hymn. I have always looked upon myself as a preacher and felt a sort of depreciation when I began to be known more as a composer.” Seems to me, Pastor Lowry, that with your music, you do both.

If  When Love Comes to Town is a Call to Confession, then Nothin’ But the Blood offers the Words of Assurance we all need to hear. We’ll be singing the Jars of Clay/5 Blind Boys of Alabama version of this tune on Good Friday – they adapted it to perfection, we figured, why mess with that?

How do you respond to the literal sacrifice of Jesus?

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When Love Comes to Town

This image comes from a pop culture and Christianity blog called When Love Comes to Town

But, you see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.- Romans 5:6-8

It’s a little overwhelming to think about that last statement. While I was still a sinner – Christ died for me. Christ died for me. Four short, unfathomable words. I can’t really wrap my head around that.

But holy smack! That’s what happens when love comes to town!

I was a sailor, I was lost in sea
I was under the waves, before love rescued me
I was a fighter I could turn on thread
Now I stand accused of things I’ve said

This confessional song is featured on U2’s Rattle and Hum album, recorded with B.B. King. The boys from Ireland don’t play it much in concert anymore but apparently B.B. includes it every time. (He’s comin’ to town this May, by the way.) The song is an Every Man song describing the life of a person lost, without Love, recognizing his need for it. And then the testimony: But that was all before Love came to live among us, entered my life, changed me.

It’s also a song that travels through time. The last verse puts us at the cross:

I was there when they crucified my Lord
I held the scabbard when the soldier drew his sword
I threw the dice as they pierced his side,
But I’ve seen love conquer the great divide

Martin Luther put it this way: I carry the nails in my pockets. Stuart Townend’s How Deep the Father’s Love also carries the idea that it was my sin that held him there. The fact of the matter is, none of us are innocent, we are all sinners, falling short of the glory of God – but that same God demonstrated his love for us that he died for us anyway. Didn’t wait for us to get it together, to stop screwing up, to ‘arrive.’

And just as we were there when Jesus was crucified, Jesus atoning work happens today, every day – he’s still comin’ to town. After all, it’s Friday… but Sunday’s comin’

We sure are having fun singing this song and we’ve come to appreciate anew the musicianship of U2 and B.B. King. We hope we do it justice.

 


The Old Rugged Cross

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. – 1 Corinthians 1:17-19.

 

Cross (n): An upright post with a transverse piece near the top, on which condemned persons were executed in ancient times…

 A little while ago, my pastor preached a sermon about the cross. It stuck with me because she talked about how an instrument of torture has been made into a trinket. I own several cross necklaces and as a Lenten practice I have been wearing one of them daily as a reminder to me of Christ’s suffering on the cross. But really, would I wear a little gold electric chair? A silver guillotine? It’s a little weird, isn’t it?

The cross is a powerful symbol for Christians – whether it’s a crucifix, with Jesus nailed to it as you see in our blog’s banner, or an empty cross, reminding us that Jesus overcame death – that simple shape expresses a complex understanding of redemption, atonement, forgiveness, grace… all these things are wrapped up in that brutal instrument of torture.

So how did that become trivialized or sentimentalized? Wearing a cross in North America doesn’t even necessarily identify you as a Christian, it’s simply a fashion item (although I doubt that’s true of crufixes, which tend to have a strong Catholic identification.) Has pop culture hijacked this symbol and watered down its meaning?

I wonder if songs like “The Old Rugged Cross” contribute to that sentimentalization. My first reaction to us singing this song was “really?” – because, honestly, it’s not my favourite tune. And I do mean ‘tune’; it has that schmaltzy, old-time gospel feel to it, which is okay sometimes. I guess. I’ve been sitting with this text for a few weeks now and its background materials and I think I’ve come to appreciate it for what it is: a man’s sincere, heartfelt expression of what Jesus did for him personally. It’s a deeply personal song.

 

In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,

A wondrous beauty I see,

For ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,

To pardon and sanctify me.

 

The author, George Bennard, became a Christian at a Salvation Army meeting. He and his wife served in the Salvation Army before he became a Methodist evangelist. He wrote the song in 1912 and it was sung during evangelistic campaigns all across America. It was recorded for the first time in June 1921. It’s been recorded by everyone from Tennesee Ernie Ford to Elvis Presley to Johnny Cash. Clearly, this song speaks to people’s experience of salvation and gives language to a very personal understanding of Jesus sacrifice. For George, it was less about the actual old, rugged cross and all about what transpired on it that turned the instrument of torture into something beautiful and precious.

 

You’ll hear echoes of the original tune when we perform it on Good Friday. It was originally written in ¾ time – a waltz, really – and we’ve remained true to its dance-like origins. The dance is just a little bluesier…

So how about you? What does the cross symbolizes for you, personally?


Man of Sorrows

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised and we esteemed him not – Isaiah 53: 3

Ecce Homo - Behold the Man

 Man of Sorrows! what a name

For the Son of God, Who came

Ruined sinners to reclaim.

Hallelujah! What a Saviour!

 In some church traditions, one doesn’t sing or say the word “Hallelujah” during the season of Lent; that word is saved for Easter Sunday. So it makes this song a little unusual in that each verse ends with the phrase “Hallelujah, what a Saviour!”

Suffering Servant, Kensington Gardens, London

This is a song of contrasts. It commemorates and celebrates. It moves from Old Testament prophecy to New Testament reality to future promise. It describes Christ’s experience on the cross – the verbal, physical and spiritual abuse he accepted on our behalf – and celebrates the redeeming work Jesus did. We are described as “ruined sinners, guilty, vile and helpless” – Jesus as “spotless Lamb” who stood in our place condemned, who sealed our pardon with His blood, who reclaimed us. (Don’t you love that word: reclaimed?) And every verse ends the same way, as if the writer can hardly believe, can hardly contain his emotions: Hallelujah! What a Saviour!

The song ends with a little bit of that “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s Comin’” feel:

 When He comes, our glorious King,

All His ransomed home to bring,

Then anew His song we’ll sing:

Hallelujah! What a Saviour!

 A note on the music: the Methodist hymnal editor, Carlton Young, wrote that the setting of this song is “typical of the reflective, chordal, quasi-choral music of the Reconstruction era’s revival that has been all but lost in the mounds of frivolous and repetitious dance tunes in the gospel hymn repertory.” (Young 1993)

Well.

If Mr. Young is present at our Good Friday Blues service, I believe he’ll be appalled at what we’ve done to this song. Taking the “Hallelujah” quite seriously, Aaron has reinterpreted this hymn into a rockin’ blues song that may not only get you singing “Hallelujah!” it might just get you moving. I hope you haven’t given up dancing for Lent…

Jesus dancing on the Sea of Galilea

 


Were you there?

stained glass in a Cathedral in Belgium

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble…

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

 

Were you there? Of course not. None of us were. And yet…

The Black Christ in the Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City

This song is borne of suffering. It comes from the soul of a slave who identifies strongly with Jesus who was “despised and rejected by men” and who suffered at the hands of authorities. African American slaves understood what it was to be beaten, whipped, abused, spit upon and die. This is the ultimate “been there, done that” experience.

And yet…

There’s that “tremble” word. Even the slave recognizes that comparisons only go so far. None of us will ever be able to say that we know exactly what Jesus went through because none of us are fully human and fully Divine. None of us have the sins of eternity thrust upon us or the responsibility of reconciling all of creation with its Maker. Even the slave who has experienced so much horror has to tremble before that reality… it almost makes me think that I, a privileged, white person, shouldn’t ever sing this song.

And yet…

This song is a gift. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” – Romans 3:23. We are all slaves when it comes right down to it. This song is the expression of a slave, imagining what it might have been like to be there when Jesus did that redemptive work on the cross. We should tremble, all of us, because of what the rest of that sentence in Romans says: “…and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Makes me shake in my boots.

When you come to the Good Friday Blues service, you’ll hear a version of this song that is quite different from the traditional spiritual. It’s a slow groove melody that honours the roots of the original but is, perhaps, even more hypnotic in its rhythm, giving you as a listener an opportunity to really meditate and enter the scene in your mind. As you envision that scene, what makes you tremble?