Saturday, March 31, 2018

"Christ Jesus Lay in Death's Strong Bands"

"Christ  Lying under a Shroud" - Giuseppe Sanmartino

Hymn: "Christ Jesus Lay in Death's Strong Bands" - Martin Luther (1483-1546)

For some reason we Christians for the most part don't celebrate this dark day - Black Saturday - the day between Good Friday and Easter - that loneliest of all days for the Lord Christ when he lay in solitude bound by the "bands" of cloth that swaddled him once again...those same threads through which he would burst forth the following morning.

The quiet... the dark... the solitude. Perhaps we were meant to spend this day in a more contemplative way with less preparation and shopping. I know, I know. Our culture, our familization, and our church-life has required us to do much of this, and I suppose we must... but in the middle of all this, could we come away and wait with Him one hour - join him in his quiet, dark, solitude? It might do us both good.

Then tomorrow morning when the organ begins the strains of "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today," we can join him more completely in his bursting forth. After all, the last word of each stanza of THIS hymn is "Hallelujah!"

Friday, March 30, 2018

From 2 Years Ago

"Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble."

Hymn: “Were You There?” – African American Spiritual

Trembling. Shuttering. Shaking uncontrollably. How long since the thought of the crucified Lord gave you a rigor? Brought an overwhelming sense of awe and appreciation?

Do the pictures that traverse your mind during this week still “get to you” when you visualize the cruelties layered upon the Righteous One? The sweat-drops of blood in the garden, the abandonment of his friends, the unfair treatment by the justice system of his day, the floggings, the pressing down of the thorns into his brow, his being forced to carry his own instrument of destruction, his being raised up to die, the piercing of his side, the taste of vinegar on his lips… on and on the humiliations mount up.

It is not a feel-good week for those of us who take the events seriously… who walk the path of sorrow in the shadow of the Savior… who step aside and allow these images to massage our spirits and reshape our attitudes – and realign our relationship with our Redeemer.

After the culmination of all the indignities and the eventual silence of death, he was laid in the tomb. It was then that the trembling – the quaking – is taken up by the earth itself as the totally-dead Christ is released from the ground to be the totally-alive Risen Lord. And with that realization, we tremble once again, standing amazed at the power of God, the Master of the Universe – the Life-giver.

All in all, during this week there’s a whole lot of shakin’ goin’ on!

Marion Williams

Willie Nelson

Thursday, March 29, 2018

"'Tis I deserve thy place."

Hymn: “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” – Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676)

This is one of those mournful major-key hymns whose tune is beautifully married to its text. Its perceived dreariness keeps it from common use in public worship… except during this week when we need the less peppy to express the depths of our grief.

The hymn as a whole is a translation from a Medieval Latin poem, and the occasional archaic word makes it less immediately accessible (visage, languish, vouchsafe, etc.), but now and then throughout this devotional text, we understand more clearly the beautiful awfulness of the death of Jesus.

“Lo, here I fall, my Savior. ‘Tis I deserve thy place.” We call this “substitutionary atonement” - that is that Christ was my stand-in when it came to this moment in history. (That’s all the theology I’ll get into on this one!) No hymnline is much more clearly stated than this one; when we sing it (or read it), we speak truth… and we are startled by it. We are put in OUR place, humbled, brought down a notch; those of us who think we are the masters of our own soul find ourselves on our face before Christ, grateful.

In the ancient (1970’s) youth choir “folk musical” NATURAL HIGH, Ralph Carmichael and Kurt Kaiser had a song that said,
    “When I think of the cross, it moves me now:
    The nails in his hands, his bleeding brow…
    It should have been me.
    Instead I am free!”

Now and then I hear someone bragging about winning an argument, and they use the phrase, “I put him in his place.” On this day, reflecting on this hymn, realize that Jesus is on the cross this week because God put HIM in our place.

Fernando Ortega Sings This Hymn (pictures from THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST)

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

"O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free."

Hymn: “O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus” – Samuel Trevor Francis (1834-1925)

As we head toward the sacrificial event of Good Friday, we need to re-appreciate the deep, deep love of Jesus. I join the apostle Paul in his prayer for the church at Ephesus: “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge.” (Ephesians 3:17b-19a) Wide, long, high, deep – these measurements are helpful to our understanding of the love by which Christ was infused so deeply that he was willing and able to endure death on the behalf of others… even 21st Century strangers-yet-sinners.

This hymnline indicates that even dimensions, amounts, and quantities cannot adequately measure the extent of Christ’s love for humankind. “Vast” is a great, limitless word to use here: unmeasurably boundless. I think you get the picture!

But that word “free” has more than one meaning. The love of Christ is offered without a price attached… without cost from us… even without a coupon! It is also free in that it runs rampant throughout all time and space, offering itself to those whose hands are willing to grab for it and whose hearts are willing to put it to good use.

And let’s not overlook that beginning exclamation: “O”! It seems to call us aside to enjoy that which follows. This simple one syllable expresses so much of the profundity of our religious experience and is so often found in Scripture and in song lyrics, offering us a circle into which we might stand and take it all in!

Let us come apart from the busy-ness of our life and turn our eyes upon Jesus, fully aware of his deep, deep love. Otherwise, we might just come apart!

Contemporary Setting

Straight-forward Singing

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

"O cross that liftest up my head, I dare not ask to hide from thee."

Hymn: “O Love That Will Not Let Me Go” – George Matheson (1842-1906)
Typical Tune: ST. MARGARET

I have a running joke with Cynthia Clawson and Ragan Courtney about this hymn because, while singing for our wedding, she forgot the words. It’s a long story… but she cannot deny it: I have it on video!

This is great poem… hymn. I will return to it again in these posts, but this last stanza speaks to us particularly during the Lenten season when possibly too often we go about with downcast eyes… too concerned with our return-to-ashes state. It may be time to “Lift thine eyes, O lift thine eyes” to see the ever-present symbol of the crucifixion just ahead.

It is almost an oxymoron that an event which calls us to turn our face away in horror or bow in grave reverence and appreciation might also be a time in which our heads are lifted to remind us of what happened there. It is as if a kind, gentle, nail-scarred hand touches the chin and raises the lowered visage to once again come face to face with the realities of suffering and shame.

This is not one of those easily-comprehended hymnlines. We could spend some time here pulling the possibilities from the few words given. For me, every time I sing or hear this stanza, I am reminded that I should not be ashamed to be connected to the One who died there. At the same time, it calls me not to shirk my commitment to the One whose love will not release me from its grasp.

With my face lifted by the realities of the cross, I wouldn’t dare request “a pass” on the suffering which might come my way; there is no way I would stand around the corner and peek at the anguish, distress or humiliation which might be my lot after having taken up the cross and following the Savior of humankind.

Need a face-lift? Allow the cross the privilege of giving you one!

Hear All Four Stanzas Sung in This Setting

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)