When I die and they lay me to rest, gonna go to the place that’s the best
When they lay me down to die, goin’ up to the Spirit in the Sky
We’re doing a few songs this time ‘round that reference the afterlife. I guess that’s not unusual, given that Good Friday is the one day of the year when we’re collectively compelled to think about death in a bigger context than our own specific mortality. Jesus’ death and resurrection make it possible for us to even imagine a heaven.
Prepare yourself, you know that you must, you gotta have a friend named Jesus
So you know that when you die, He’s gonna recommend you to the Spirit in the Sky.
When my dad died a little over a year ago now, there was great concern amongst our family members about his salvation. Dad didn’t go to church, didn’t profess to be a Christian but acknowledged that there was a God. I think dad’s biggest problem was not God or Jesus, per se, but the church and the hypocrisy he experienced there. (He often gave that as an excuse for not going to church, saying it was full of hypocrites. I told him he should come anyway, that one more wouldn’t make a difference.) (Right?) But the day before he died we had a chat about his impending death and the afterlife and he said he was ready, ready to meet his Maker, that he was at peace. Dad was a complex guy and what I’ve just written isn’t enough to truly tell you why I fully expect to see Dad when I get to heaven. I’ve had repeat visions of him and Jesus sitting side-by-side in matching Lazy Boys, sharing a beer and some healing conversation. I think dad was prepared and was recommended, if you will, to the Spirit in the Sky.
When I think of Jesus hanging on the cross I’m struck again about how Jesus had to live a complete human life – from birth to death. In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he writes that Jesus came to us in the form of a human and was obedient, even unto death. Even Jesus had to be prepared for that to which he had been called. Good Friday gives us an opportunity to focus on the crucified Jesus and reflect – not just on eternity but on our calling here on earth. Are we prepared for either?
This is the second gospel song we’re singing that was written by someone who is not Christian (the first is Trouble and Woe, written by Ruth Moody). Norm Greenbaum’ was raised as and remains an observant Jew. He apparently was inspired to write this gospel song because he was influenced by southern gospel music and westerns – he liked the idea of “dying with your boots on”. I guess one could think of Jesus that way too, eh? It does explain the shaky theology of the song’s third verse where it references the singer as having never been a sinner. We’ve taken the liberty of changing that lyric slightly to reflect the Christian belief that we are, in fact, all born sinners, which is why we need a friend named Jesus.