Category Archives: crucifixion

Didn’t it rain?

photo by Saskatchewan photographer Lois Siemens

It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining… Luke 23: 44-45

 We live on the West Coast of British Columbia, so we know what it’s like when the sun stops shining. This is a rainforest, something we often forget, despite the fact that it rains a lot – and this past fall/winterl/spring, it feels like it’s rained more than usual. Last night it was coming down in buckets, pushed sideways by the wind. Whenever it rains like that I think of homeless people. Where do you go to get out of the weather? What do you do if you and all your stuff gets wet? How do you sleep?

One of the songs that the Good Friday Blues Band has done multiple times is Randy Stonehill’s “Didn’t it Rain”. It’s a great, rockin’ blues tune that paints a word picture of Jesus’ crucifixion and death.

 Well the sky grew dark and the wind it howled
And the angels wept and wailed
And the devil laughed with a serpent’s hiss
As the hammer hit the nails
It was holy blood that paid for all our shame
Oh, didn’t it rain?

I always feel like it is appropriate when it rains on Good Friday – like nature is reminding us of what happened. But this morning, as I’m writing this, the sun is streaming through my window, despite the dark clouds to the south. Maybe today, nature is reminding me of the end of the song, the end of the story:

When you tell this story (didn’t it rain)
Don’t forget the end(didn’t it rain)

’cause on the third day Jesus

Walked from the grave again
He redeemed our souls (didn’t it rain)

He changed history

 Didn’t it rain,(rain) rain, rain

Didn’t it rain (rain), rain, rain

Oh, didn’t it rain (rain) when my Jesus
Died for me

Whether or not you believe that Jesus was the son of God, no one can deny that Jesus changed history. We mark time by before and after his life – we are living in A.D., Anno Domini, the year of our Lord. And whether or not you believe he was the son of God, you can still appreciate his teaching to love your neighbour, love your enemies. The world would be a damn better place if all of us chose to do this. Today, you can change history for some of those homeless youth who may have spent last night, in the rain, on the streets of Abbotsford or Chilliwack or Langley. When you support Cyrus Centre, you are supporting an organization that survives 24/7/365 largely on the donations of people like us. Today is the last day of our Good Friday Blues non-event fundraising effort for Cyrus Centre. Every donation up to $3000 will be matched 1:1. If you’ve already given, I can’t thank you enough. If you haven’t yet and it is within your means to do so, please do. Check out our Service Info page to find out how you can ensure your donation is matched.

I’ll write one more blog post next week and let you know how successful we’ve been. My prayer for all of us today is that we can be changed by the story, that we’ll be able to see the sunshine, despite the rain.

 

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You want it darker

Night at Golgotha, 1869
Vereshchagin, Vasili Vasilievich (1842-1904). Russian. Medium: oil on canvas.

From noon until three in the afternoon, darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli,Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – Matthew 27: 45-46

Some call Good Friday the darkest day in history. Well, I suppose if you watched Jesus being crucified, it probably was a dark day. Truth is, there is darkness for people every single day. Anyone living in the middle of war and persecution, who is dying of a terminal illness and living in pain, anyone who wrestles with severe mental illness… and all those who are relegated to the sidelines and have to watch people they love go through this, well, those people are living in great darkness too.

I recently bought my first and only Leonard Cohen CD – You want it darker. I have mixed feelings about Cohen. He was a larger than life character throughout his life. Musically, I put him in the same category as Bob Dylan: fantastic poets who can’t carry a tune. Seriously, someone else should sing their songs. Still…

i love the concept of this album cover art

I’ve listened to Cohen’s title track on repeat and there’s something hypnotic about his voice. Reviewers of this particular CD said it was Cohen at his most honest, most raw. Knowing that he was dying as he recorded it gives extra weight to the words “I’m ready my Lord”.

Magnified, sanctified, be thy holy name
Vilified, crucified, in the human frame
A million candles burning for the love that never came
You want it darker
We kill the flame

These words take me right to the foot of the cross, watching Jesus in anguish as he cries out to God, crying out for the love that never came. It’s gripping. But the genius of Cohen’s lyrics is that he takes the story through history and to his own life:

They’re lining up the prisoners
And the guards are taking aim
I struggled with some demons
They were middle class and tame
I didn’t know I had permission to murder and to maim

You want it darker…

Throughout all of this recognition and confession is the constant refrain “Hineni, hineni, I’m ready my Lord”. Cohen calls out the darkness in the world, acknowledging our part in killing the flame, making the world a darker place. He knew he’d lived a less than perfect life and he owned it. He also acknowledged the grace of God in all of that. He knew he was dying and he was ready.

At first listen, this is a pretty dark song, hopeless almost – except for that repeated refrain. If we are living as people who are ready, then we need to do what we can to keep the flame burning, to keep the million candles lit, to be the love that comes to those who need it. When you support Cyrus Centre with your financial gift, you are doing exactly that. Cyrus Centre brings a little light into the dark corners of our city streets where some of our forgotten and neglected youth find themselves. Remember that all donations up to $3000 will be matched! I hope you’ll join us and support this important ministry.

Get the details on how to give on our Service Info Page


Saw you yesterday, see you tonight!

Thanks to all who attended last night’s service of Good Friday Blues – it was great to see everyone up and dancin’ by the end!

Tonight’s service is sold out – doors are at 6:30 pm. Don’t forget to bring your cheque book so you can support Cyrus Centre further.

And of course, make sure you wear your dancin’ shoes.

keep-calm-and-put-your-dancing-shoes-on


Saved

detail from "John 3:16" by Robert T. Barrett. Oil on canvas

detail from “John 3:16” by Robert T. Barrett. Oil on canvas

I was blinded by the devil, born already ruined

Stone-cold dead as I stepped out of the womb

By his grace I have been touched, by His word I have been healed

By His hand I’ve been delivered, by His spirit I’ve been sealed

I’ve been saved by the blood of the Lamb

And I’m so glad… I want to thank you Lord

 

I’ve always thought that Bob Dylan is a living example of The Emperor’s New Clothes. I don’t care what anyone says, the guy can’t sing! So it’s extraordinary that he makes his living as a singer. Might as well be parading in front of us naked.

 

What Dylan is, is a poet and a damn good one. No one writes songs quite like his, which is perhaps why we forgive so much of his inability to carry a tune. He really does have a wonderful way with words.

 

album artwork "Saved" by Bob Dylan

album artwork “Saved” by Bob Dylan

Saved isn’t Dylan’s best song but we chose this song for obvious reasons – it’s his most Christian song, talking specifically about the saving work of Jesus. Most of the song uses cliché Christian phrases but the opening verse is a brilliant example of Dylan’s skill with a pen.

 

The idea that one steps out of the womb physically alive but spiritually dead is as dramatic an example of a need for a Saviour as there ever was. The use of the words “stone cold” and “womb” make the listener imagine the stone cold tomb from which Jesus emerges on Easter morning. This very Saviour who conquered death by his blood is now able to touch us by grace, heal us, deliver us, and seal us. Indeed there is much to be glad and thankful for!

 

Bob.

Bob.

Dylan’s recording of this song is rather frantic and we’ve worked pretty hard to give it more nuance so that the poetry of it emerges strongly. But the musical strength of the song is its celebratory nature and we haven’t lost any of that quality. We’ve been saved – freed from the pit and the fire that burns in it! If ever there was a reason to get up and party, this is it! So we’re saving this one for the end – and I keep sayin’ this, so it must be true: make sure you bring your dancin’ shoes.

We have one more rehearsal and then it’s happening! If you haven’t got your tickets yet, get them now – they’re going fast and we want to sell out so that we can bless Cyrus Centre and the great work they do there. See you next week!

 

 


Sweet by and by

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for… (Hebrews 11:1)

the beach at Martyr's Bay, Iona, Scotland

the beach at Martyr’s Bay, Iona, Scotland

There’s a land that is fairer than day,

And by faith we can see it afar,

For the Father waits over the way

To prepare us a dwelling place there.

 

In the sweet by and by,

We shall meet on that beautiful shore;

In the sweet by and by,

We shall meet on that beautiful shore.

 

The playwright, William Congreve, coined the phrase “Music has charms to soothe the savage breast” in his 1697 play, “The Mourning Bride.” It would appear that the lyricist, Sanford F. Bennett, knew this. Apparently he penned this sweet little hymn as a way to help his friend, Joseph P. Webster out of a bout of depression.

Sanford F. Bennet

Sanford F. Bennet

Joseph P. Webster

Joseph P. Webster

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In his autobiography, he writes that he could tell in an instant if Webster was in a state of melancholy and knew he could turn it around     by giving him a new song to work on. When Webster came to work in such a state one day, saying he’d be better “by and by”, that little phrase was enough inspiration for Bennett to write the text to the hymn in minutes. In half an hour, Webster had composed the melody on his violin and the two were singing it. The song is now a gospel standard, often performed in New Orleans at “jazz funerals”.

I was struck by two words in the first verse: by faith. Imagine what the disciples must have been thinking and feeling, watching their leader, the one in whom they had placed so much of their faith, hanging on a cross. Everything they’d hoped for was dying before their eyes. It must have been devastating, even faith-shattering. As folks living on this side of the resurrection, we have the benefit of knowing what happened on Sunday – and there’s a fair amount of faith required to accept that part of the story too. And there it is: by faith. We’re singing another rockin’ blues song – “I Believe” – that is in itself a declaration of faith and repeats that phrase over and over again:

By faith I believe it, By faith I receive it

By faith I can have it, By faith I can share it

By faith I will know it, by faith I will show it

By faith I will bear it and now I declare it

I believe just what He said!

 

By faith we believe. Chapter 11 of Hebrews gives a beautiful little history lesson on all those giants of faith who “died in faith without having received the promises.” Because of that, they received something even better – the true promised land of heaven. That witness is given to us as encouragement:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2

Iron Cross, Italian Chapel, South Ronaldsay, Orkney, Scotland

Iron Cross, Italian Chapel, South Ronaldsay, Orkney, Scotland

We chose this song because we wanted something familiar that we could sing with all the fine folks who will attend the Good Friday Blues Services. It’s a song of hope, written by someone who saw his friend’s brow furrowed by trouble and woe and offered as a means of comfort. We hope that will be true for all who join us at Good Friday Blues too.


Spirit in the Sky

sky over North Ronaldsay, Orkney, Scotland

sky over North Ronaldsay, Orkney, Scotland

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.

sky over Oliver, BC. photo by band member, Benita Warkentin

sky over Oliver, BC. photo by band member, Benita Warkentin

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.

Crucified Jesus outside the Italian Chapel, South Ronaldsay, Orkney, Scotland

Crucified Jesus outside the Italian Chapel, South Ronaldsay, Orkney, Scotland

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.


Christmas Song

Manger scene by Emma Nickel

Manger scene by Emma Nickel

She was his girl; he was her boyfriend
She be his wife; make him her husband
A surprise on the way, any day, any day
One healthy little giggling dribbling baby boy
The wise men came three made their way
To shower him with love
While he lay in the hay
Shower him with love love love
Love love love
Love love is all around

A few years ago, my church organized an art show on the theme of Easter. Emma, then 5 or 6, created two pieces of art for us: a manger scene and a Golgotha scene. When her mom reminded her that this was an Easter themed art show, she responded “Mom, you can’t have Easter without Christmas, you know.”

So in the season of Lent as we head for Good Friday so we’re singing this song, called Christmas Song, although, really, this song is misnamed. It’s not strictly a Christmas song; it’s really a story-telling song that tells the story of Jesus’ whole life. I love it when artists re-phrase a familiar story to make it new again.

Golgotha by Emma Nickel

Golgotha by Emma Nickel

When Jesus Christ was nailed to his tree
Said “oh, Daddy-o I can see how it all soon will be
I came to shed a little light on this darkening scene
Instead I fear I’ve spilled the blood of my children all around
The blood of our children all around..

(See? Good Friday.)

Preparations were made
For his celebration day —-
He said “eat this bread and think of it as me
Drink this wine and dream it will be
The blood of our children all around

I fell in love with this song the very first time I heard it but as I examined the lyrics a little more closely it was these references to “the blood of our children all around” that I struck me as odd, even troubling. I’ve been sitting with it for weeks now and this is what is emerging for me. I think it helps to know a little bit about the songwriter, Dave Matthews.

Dave Matthews

Dave Matthews

Born into a Quaker family in Johannesburg, South Africa, Matthews would have had an upbringing that focused on social justice and peacemaking. Paired with what he witnessed during apartheid, he would have witnessed enormous injustices – these themes come out in a lot of his music. But Matthews refers to himself as an agnostic. I’ve read and listened to a few interviews with him and what I get from these is his enormous dissatisfaction with organized religion and with a depiction of a God who is only concerned with judgment. “Where is the God that calls us to love our neighbours, to make a difference in the lives of the poor and oppressed?” – these words in an interview with Q TV struck me. “He’s right here! Weeping beside you at the same injustices you see!” I wanted to scream. What is sad is how the church has killed that God for Matthews – and others, sometimes, even me.

i like the inclusion of the crown of thorns in this communion image. it reminds me of the very short journey from Jesus' last supper with his friends to the cross.

i like the inclusion of the crown of thorns in this communion image. it reminds me of the very short journey from Jesus’ last supper with his friends to the cross.

I worship a God who is deeply concerned with injustice. Jesus spent his whole life on earth living with, tending to, and lifting up the poor and oppressed. No wonder, when he was hanging on the cross, he felt forsaken – and couldn’t you see how he might have had doubts? “I fear that all I’ve done is spilled the blood of our children? Nothing will change! They’ll keep doing this to each other, to our creation…”

But then come the redemptive words: Drink this wine and dream… believe that when you drink this it is my blood shed for you. Dream that this will be the blood of our children all around…

I worship in the Anabaptist/Mennonite tradition and our confession of faith refers to the communion meal as a time when we renew our covenant with God and with each other. It is in Christ that I live and move and have my being but I also live and move in community and so I need to be just as deeply concerned as God is, as Jesus demonstrated, about all of God’s children, all of His creation.

That’s what I’m meditating on when we sing this. How do you connect with that lyric?