Category Archives: the cross

How long?

About three in the afternoon, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli lema sabachtani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – the gospel of Matthew

 How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? – Psalm 13, a psalm of David

We always think of the psalms as songs of joy and praise but there are actually more psalms of lament than there are of praise. The writer(s) give voice to despair and suffering that I think we in the western world could learn from. We so focused on individual strength and stoicism, even in the face of suffering. It is seen as a sign of supreme weakness to admit that sometimes we fail, sometimes we are weak. Sometimes in the church community, suffering is seen as a sign of a lack of faith – if we believe hard enough then we should be able to overcome all things. We  should be living “In victory”, right?

The psalmists knew better. They were honest with God: “Hey! I’m suffering here! Where the heck are you?” For cryin’ out loud, even Jesus gave voice to doubt and suffering.

if you don’t own any Michael Card music, this is a good compilation. if you only want one album, buy Starkindler

 I don’t listen to a ton of Christian music, but Michael Card is one of my favourite Christian musicians. He comes to his craft with integrity. He’s got a master’s degree in theology, so he writes with both knowledge and depth. Every song he writes is run by an accountability group before it is recorded to ensure that he’s written something accurately, with respect, with integrity.

He set Psalm 13 to music, giving it a rockin’ gospel feel, with a choir bellowing “how long? How long? How long will you hide?”

 You won’t even give an answer, Lord! (How long? How long?)
Give me light or I can live no more! (How long will you hide?)
My foes rejoice when they see me fall! (How long? How long?)
We have overcome and now they call! (How long will you hide?)
How Long? (Will you hide from me?) How Long?
How Long? (Till you set me free?) How Long?

That third line… imagine Jesus hanging there, nailed to the executioner’s cross, his enemies waiting for him to die. “Forsaken” only barely begins to describe what he must have felt – sometimes words are inadequate.

We’ve got one week left in this fundraiser for Cyrus Centre. This organization support children and youth who have been forsaken by their families. Some of their stories are devastating. But Cyrus Centre is there to respond to the cries of “how long?” working to restore relationships, helping these kids get back on their feet again. They embody Christ as they serve, the Christ who understands the suffering those children and youth are living. Your gift to this ministry supports this work and speaks healing to suffering. Remember that we have a matching gift of $3000 and we’re already over half way there – can we get to $3000, turning that into $6000? I believe we can. To ensure that your gift is matched, visit our Services Info Page for info.

Blessings to you as you enter into Holy Week. I’ll blog once more on Good Friday and will do my best to update you on our success!


Fix me

prayer candles always give me a sense of hope. it feels so poignant that my prayers continue to burn there even after i'm gone. these candles burn at the Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona, Arizona

prayer candles always give me a sense of hope. it feels so poignant that my prayers continue to burn there even after i’m gone. these candles burn at the Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona, Arizona

 

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love. – Psalm 51

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner – the Jesus prayer.

 

Oh fix me

Fix me for my starry crown

Fix me for my long white robe

Fix me for my dyin’ day

Fix me for my journey home

 Prayer is one of those things where I feel like we make it more complicated than it actually needs to be. We come with long lists or we use flowery language. We tell God what he already knows. At the end of the day, though, if we believe that God knows what is in our hearts, we don’t need to come to God with a sales pitch, we just need to tell it like it is. For me, most of the time, that prayer could be this simple: I’m screwed up, please fix me.

That is part of what this traditional spiritual is getting at but it’s also a lovely play on words. “Fix” can refer to repairing something that’s broken but it can also refer to preparing for something to come, a journey to a better place.

bobby mcferrin album cover

You may know Bobby McFerrin from his “Don’t worry, be happy” recording but he is so, so much more than this. Bobby’s whole body is his instrument and a brief cruise through youtube will show you what I mean. What you might not know is that Bobby is also a man of deep faith.

“I couldn’t do anything without faith,” he says. “I couldn’t open up my eyes, I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t sing.”

What I learned as I dug around for info on this song is that Bobby’s dad was an opera singer. I know, right? This song appeared on the senior’s McFerrin’s 1957 recording Deep River but it’s nothing like what Bobby does with it on his album spirityouall – an album I highly recommend.

Daniel takes the lead on this one at Good Friday Blues and does a great job with it. This is one of two songs we’ll hear as we prepare for our own time of prayer at the service. Our tradition is to have folks write down their prayer concerns on little slips of blue paper and then nail those to the cross. In the second half of the service we’ll take time to pray, that God would fix us, fix what we’ve nailed to that cross. The symbolism if powerful.

What burden will you nail to the cross when you come?


Come on up to the house

la bella luna

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split… – Matthew’s account of the death of Jesus.

 

Well the moon is broken and the sky is cracked
Come on up to the house
The only things that you can see
Is all that you lack
Come on up to the house

The world is not my home
I’m just a passin thru
Come on up to the house

Crucifixion, Jan van Eyck left panel of a diptych

Crucifixion, Jan van Eyck left panel of a diptych

 Every year when we prepare for this event, I try to imagine what it was like to be standing at the cross and to watch Jesus die. How must his mother have felt? His closest friends? How could they bear it?

lyrics-e1400661088623

Does life seem nasty, brutish and short
Come on up to the house
The seas are stormy
And you can’t find no port
Come on up to the house
There’s nothin in the world
that you can do
you gotta come on up to the house
and you been whipped by the forces
that are inside you
come on up to the house

Yes, this is what they might have felt: that life is nasty, brutish, short, stormy, whipped, nothing to be done… Where did the disciples go after witnessing that? Did they hang out somewhere together? What could they possibly have said to each other for comfort?

 This fantastic Tom Waits tune might be one of the saddest sounding songs we’ve ever sung. Tom’s voice sounds like he’s gargled with gravel and the whole song just has this soul-weary, exhausted feel to it – and yet there’s this faint sense of hope that this world isn’t all there is, we’re just passing through, hang in there, come on up to the house.


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!

 

 


You Gotta Move

Sunrise-set, June, North Ronaldsay, Orkney, Scotland

Sunrise-set, June, North Ronaldsay, Orkney, Scotland

 

And do this, understanding the present time, the hour has come for you to wake up from you slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over, the day is almost here…– Romans 13:11,12

I’m not a fan of end-times stuff. I figure my end-time could be any time – I may live to 100, I might get hit by a bus tomorrow. You just never know, so you always have to be ready – ready to move.

By the same token, I also don’t like the idea that my salvation only matters for my future – my get into heaven free card, if you will. If Jesus doesn’t matter in my everyday life, then I’m not really interested. It’s too hard to live in the future, I want to live in the present, to BE present. Jesus does matter in my life today – I have come so that you have life in abundance – not life in the future.

You gotta move, you gotta move,

You gotta move child, ‘cause when the Lord gets ready

You gotta move, you gotta move…

 

Hope-filled Sunset South Ronaldsay, Orkney, Scotland

Hope-filled Sunset South Ronaldsay, Orkney, Scotland

One of the things I love about Spirituals is their simplicity and the way their authors are so hopeful despite the circumstances of life.

 

You may be up, you may be down

You may be six feet underground

You may be high, you may be low

You may be rich, you may be poor

But when the Lord gets ready

You gotta move, you gotta move…

 

This traditional spiritual was first recorded in the 1940s. When you consider that the original writer was quite likely a slave (and if not a slave, then certainly an oppressed person) it’s remarkable how someone in that context is able to see him/herself equal in the eyes of the Lord. It doesn’t really matter what your status, when the Lord gets ready, then honey, you better be ready to move! The way I look at it, it means being ready to listen and respond to whatever the Lord is asking of you, every day, not just your last day. What is Jesus prompting me to do today? Think of this in light of Good Friday: even in death, he was listening to the prompting of the Spirit – taking care of his friends, taking care of his mother, taking care of the thieves crucified with him, forgiving every blasted person around him. Jesus life was so abundant that even in death, he was giving life to those around him, just like he’d done throughout his earthly life.

 

put on your dancin' shoes, cause you gotta move!

put on your dancin’ shoes, cause you gotta move!

I think the Romans passage above can be read in that context too – we need to live out our salvation every day, not live like sleepwalkers waiting for the end.

 

And this song, people, is going to make you move. Seriously. I dare you to sit still.

 

 

 


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?