Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed, Sojourn (2009, Over The Grave)

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Today we close out the Passion aspect of Lent season (I will take the next two weeks on the resurrection) with a song that truly captures the best response that the heart could have to the suffering and death of Christ.  We must consider seriously meditating on how much Jesus did for us: that He laid His life down for sinners like you and me.  We must find a heart of gratitude for these things at the deepest level, no matter how uncomfortable it might be.

Therefore, I am calling out an all-star cast for this occasion.  All-star, meaning our song is a time-tested, hall of fame-like tune performed by a well-loved, veteran group of artists that are at the heart of the “new hymns” movement today.

Without further ado, here is Sojourn performing Isaac Watt’s classic hymn, “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed” :

Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sovereign die.
Would He devote that sacred head
For sinners such as I?
His body slain; nailed to the cross
Bathed in his own blood
There received the wrath of God
His soul in anguish stood.
It was for crimes that I had done
That kept him on the tree.
Amazing mercy, matchless grace
And love beyond degree.
When Christ, our own creator died
And took upon our sin
Not even in that darkest hour
Could glory be shut in
My thoughts fixed on His sacrifice
The cross that draws me near
Dissolve my heart in thankfulness
And melt my eyes to tears.
Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sovereign die.
Would He devote that sacred head
For sinners such as I?
Drops of grief cannot repay
The love I owe to you
Lord, I give myself away
Its all that can do.

I have printed these words out and kept them in my Bible for years now. It seems to capture that initial and essential response to the Cross so perfectly.  It is the very function of worship music to repeatedly take core truths deeper into the heart and mind of the worshipper.

Because of how rich this song is, I encourage all readers to simply focus on the lyrics themselves, more so than my reflections about them.  Re-read the biblical accounts of the crucifixion in companion with this song.  Perhaps intensify things by watching the Passion of the Christ movie in conjunction with your reading and listening to this song.

Don’t let this season pass you by without stepping into the depths of the death of death and sin.  The resurrection is coming and it is supremely grand and important – but it wouldn’t mean a thing if our Savior didn’t bleed for us first.  Watts says is best, “My thoughts fixed on His sacrifice,the cross that draws me near, dissolve my heart in thankfulness, and melt my eyes to tears.

Alas! and did my Savior bleed.”

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O Sacred Head, Page CXVI (2012, B-Sides)

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Passion/Resurrection theme continues this week with a powerful old/new number addressing the awful reason why Christ had to die in the first place: us.

Page CXVI is a trio endeavoring to revive old hymns with new musical life.  Their style is one of simplicity and a little shoe-gazing, but beautiful for sure.  Their name?  Well, in their own words, “We got our name from C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia in The Magician’s Nephew. Page 116 in the book (CXVI in roman numerals) is where Aslan begins to sing Narnia into creation. Melody being the driving force behind creation really resonated with us, and we stuck with it!”  Perfect!

“O Sacred Head” was originally a passion hymn from the Dark (or Middle) Ages.  I guess a few things good did come out of such a bleak time period.  The old text has many more verses and “Thees” and “Thous”, but the gist of the lyrics is captured by Page CXVI here:

O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, Thine only crown;
How pale art Thou with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
Oh how Your face bends solemn, which once was bright as morn!

Men mock and taunt and jeer Thee, Thou noble countenance,
Though mighty worlds shall fear Thee and flee before Thy glance.
Grim death, with cruel rigor, hath robbed Thee of Thy life;                                                Thus Thou hast lost Thy vigor, Thy strength in this sad strife.

You bled by our hands, You bled!

My burdens You have carried, my sins you have borne,
For it was my transgression which brought this worldly scorn.
I cast me down before Thee, wrath – my rightful lot;
But You have sweet mercy, Redeemer by the cross.

You bled by our hands, You bled for me, for you, for us!

A strikingly personal and hard-edged psalm contemplating the all too well known fact that we (humanity) literally put Jesus on the cross.  Sometimes, we get desensitized by this reality because we’ve heard about it over and over again.  Our numbness grows with each Easter season, and yet reality has never changed…not for the last 2,000 some years.

It is good and fitting and horribly difficult to really meditate on this truth: God bled for us and by our hands.  Isaiah 53 is exactly what our hearts need in order to properly dwell on exactly what Jesus did for us and what we did to Him:

Who has believed our message?
    To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm?
My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot,
    like a root in dry ground.
There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance,
    nothing to attract us to him.
He was despised and rejected—
    a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
    He was despised, and we did not care.

Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
    it was our sorrows[a] that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
    a punishment for his own sins!
But he was pierced for our rebellion,
    crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
    He was whipped so we could be healed.
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
    We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him
    the sins of us all.

He was oppressed and treated harshly,
    yet he never said a word.
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
    And as a sheep is silent before the shearers,
    he did not open his mouth.
Unjustly condemned,
    he was led away.[b]
No one cared that he died without descendants,
    that his life was cut short in midstream.[c]
But he was struck down
    for the rebellion of my people.
He had done no wrong
    and had never deceived anyone.
But he was buried like a criminal;
    he was put in a rich man’s grave.

10 But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him
    and cause him grief.
Yet when his life is made an offering for sin,
    he will have many descendants.
He will enjoy a long life,
    and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands.
11 When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish,
    he will be satisfied.
And because of his experience,
    my righteous servant will make it possible
for many to be counted righteous,
    for he will bear all their sins.
12 I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier,
    because he exposed himself to death.
He was counted among the rebels.
    He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels.

Yes, Easter is several weeks away.  However, we are not able anymore to just think upon these things and be impacted by them as we should be.  Remember, we are numb.  Therefore, let Lent season serve it’s purpose.  Begin thinking now about the cross by meditating on Christ’s suffering and focus on why He had to endure all that He did.

Imagining the Sacred Head of God’s Son with a crown of thorns and a countenance of ultimate anguish is where we need to start this process of getting all the way through to the empty tomb.  Don’t pass over what is the absolute center of the cross, Easter and the Gospel itself: God died for sinners.  God died.  He bled by our hands…

Farther Along – Josh Garrels (2011, Love & War & and the Sea In Between)

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I’m a real sucker for good driving songs.  You know, like the ones you maybe put on a playlist (or cassette, if you’re a little older like me) for road trips?  I’m also a sucker for songs that overwhelm with overarching, big-picture truths rolled into one glorious tune.  This selection is all of the above and more.

Josh Garrels hails from Portland, Oregon where he crafts a very special brew of music, as well as running his own independent record label, Small Voice Records.  He has been writing songs and blazing his own trail in the quiet, aesthetic world of (Dave Matthews-esque?) folk/pop music for several years.  Most everyone agrees that “Love & War & the Sea In Between” is his best album and this song is certainly a flagship tune within his entire collection.  We will definitely be returning to Josh’s storehouse on this blog.

There is so much here lyrically, that I hate to serve it up with any predispositions.  Each line of each verse is a meditation in and of itself (hence, the overarching effect).  However, the one thing I’ll say before you listen is that if you hold to the truths of Scripture within your heart, then you will definitely be encouraged by the end of this song:

Farther along we’ll know all about it
Farther along we’ll understand why
Cheer up my brothers, live in the sunshine
We’ll understand this, all by and by

Tempted and tried, I wondered why
The good man died, the bad man thrives
And Jesus cries because He loves em’ both
We’re all cast-aways in need of ropes
Hangin’ on by the last threads of our hope
In a house of mirrors full of smoke
Confusing illusions I’ve seen

Where did I go wrong, I sang along
To every chorus of the song
That the devil wrote like a piper at the gates
Leading mice and men down to their fates
But some will courageously escape
The seductive voice with a heart of faith
While walkin’ that line back home

So much more to life than we’ve been told
It’s full of beauty that will unfold
And shine like you struck gold my wayward son
That deadweight burden weighs a ton
Go down into the river and let it run
And wash away all the things you’ve done
Forgiveness alright

Still I get hard pressed on every side
Between the rock and a compromise
Like the truth and pack of lies fightin’ for my soul
And I’ve got no place left go
Cause I got changed by what I’ve been shown
More glory than the world has known
Keeps me ramblin’ on

Skipping like a calf loosed from its stall
I’m free to love once and for all
And even when I fall I’ll get back up
For the joy that overflows my cup
Heaven filled me with more than enough
Broke down my levee and my bluff
Let the flood wash me

And one day when the sky rolls back on us
Some rejoice and the others fuss
Cause every knee must bow and tongue confess
That the son of god is forever blessed
His is the kingdom, we’re the guests
So put your voice up to the test
Sing Lord, come soon

The Gospel can have a giddy effect on people, sometimes.  Believe me, I’ve seen it.  Sometimes, these happy moments are spontaneous and so contagious that it could only register as proof of the activity of God in our lives.  Sure, we have to be careful of how our feelings lead the train.  Yes, faith (especially faith in the factual things of life) must come first.  But that sure doesn’t mean the caboose of this Gospel train means nothing.

Music is a place to connect it all.  Link together our fundamental cars of truth that God has revealed of Himself and His love for us through His Son.  Then, we step back…way back, until we see as much as we can bare to fathom.  This is when we are allowed to feel the rush of reality and the overwhelming joy of our salvation.  This is when music binds and vivifies the spiritual world in ways that can be bigger and better than anything else.

Paul wasn’t afraid to write about Gospel truths and his goofy feelings that he had for them.  In Romans, Paul constructed his most complete and elegant composition of what the Gospel truly is.  It took him eleven chapters and when he got to the end he cried out,

Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand His decisions and His ways!  For who can know the Lord’s thoughts?  Who knows enough to give Him advice?  And who has given Him so much  that He needs to pay it back?  For everything comes from Him and exists by His power and is intended for His glory. All glory to Him forever! Amen.”

I know that it is just words, but you need to hear the emotion and the projection that Paul puts into this concluding statement.  Even the word, “Oh!” carries so much guttural weight in the original language.  Paul is actually saying, “WOW!!!” in a loud, joyous way as he is literally unable to wrap his mind around who God is and what He has done for us.

Only the Christian has this at his or her disposal at all times.  Only the true believer in Jesus has the hope that is anchored in unwavering, unshakable truth.  Only the sinner saved by true grace has these things consistently rising and growing within them until the Kingdom comes to manifest itself completely and permanently.  Only God’s children are moving farther along in this dying world.  Amen!

“So put your voice up to the test!”

What Have I Done? (Valjeann’s Soliloquy) – Alfie Boe (1980, Les Miserable)

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I don’t normally do something like this: that is, blog about musicals or incorporate film into this “tunes-based” website.

But, then again, I don’t normally experience something like what happened to me last week.

I went to the movies over the holidays and witnessed the newest adaptation of “Les Miserable” (sorry French geeks, I’m not going to include the accent over the “e”).  It was by far, the best musical film that I have ever seen.  This story, this play, and this song was amazingly performed in the film, capturing the essence of redemption and a changed heart.

For those of you who don’t know, Les Mis is about a man (Jean Valjean) released from prison after serving a 19 year sentence for stealing bread.  It is set in the early 1800’s after the French Revolution and during times of poverty, political upheaval and military dominance.  Valjean is a ruined, hardened ex-con who doesn’t know how to reclaim his life or his dignity when a local bishop offers him grace and a chance at redemption.

Listen to the lyrics as this man struggles with this offer of mercy.  Listen as if he was directly singing about Jesus, Himself:

What have I done?
Sweet Jesus, what have I done?
Become a thief in the night,
Become a dog on the run
And have I fallen so far,
And is the hour so late
That nothing remains but the cry of my hate,
The cries in the dark that nobody hears,
Here where I stand at the turning of the years?

If there’s another way to go
I missed it twenty long years ago
My life was a war that could never be won
They gave me a number and murdered Valjean
When they chained me and left me for dead
Just for stealing a mouthful of bread

Yet why did I allow that man
To touch my soul and teach me love?
He treated me like any other
He gave me his trust
He called me brother
My life he claims for God above
Can such things be?
For I had come to hate the world
This world that always hated me

Take an eye for an eye!
Turn your heart into stone!
This is all I have lived for!
This is all I have known!

One word from him and I’d be back
Beneath the lash, upon the rack
Instead he offers me my freedom
I feel my shame inside me like a knife
He told me that I have a soul,
How does he know?
What spirit comes to move my life?
Is there another way to go?

I am reaching, but I fall
And the night is closing in
And I stare into the void
To the whirlpool of my sin
I’ll escape now from the world
From the world of Jean Valjean
Jean Valjean is nothing now
Another story must begin!

The power of this man’s transformation so closely resembles what the Gospel does to anyone who truly believes and embrace’s it.  Valjean goes on to live out the Gospel in the way he treats other people: offering kindness and forgiveness, withholding malice, loving the broken and sacrificing for those he loves.  Christ demands the same from His own:

“So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know Him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!  And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to Himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to Him.”        (2 Corinthians 5:16-18)

I challenge all readers to go and see this film in the theater, simply for the purpose of being lambasted in your soul by the power of this Bible text exemplified in the story of Jean Valjean.  The visual of his torment turned into peace, the sound of this song ringing the Gospel transformation through surround sound – it is a sensory revival that is greatly needed amidst the mind-numbing, desensitization that we face today.  The film intensely captures the close-up shots of Valjean (played by Hugh Jackman) struggling mentally and emotionally as his heart is melted and his soul renewed.

Our stories are our own, but we all must stare into the whirlpool of our sin and wonder whether or not a new story will begin.  If Jesus is your Savior, then your misery has been turned into redemption and you can bellow out from the bowels of your soul along with Valjean, “Instead He offers me my freedom!”