Good Friday and Christian Music

Yesterday was Good Friday. For the last several years, it’s been the Christian holiday that I’ve most consistently emotionally connected with. Easter is a close second, but in this post I’d like to discuss a more general topic that I think explains why I’ve connected with Good Friday.

When I first started attending my church, City on a Hill in Brookline, I loved everything about the church, but surprisingly, it was the music that stood out the most. For a long time, I wasn’t really sure why. I knew that they sung a different mix of songs than I was used to, and somehow I loved them, but it wasn’t until a sermon by Fletcher Lang six weeks ago that I realized why.

The sermon was on the Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-13), which Fletcher described as a prototypical ‘mountaintop experience.’ He went on:

Many of us have experienced these ‘spiritual highs.’ Those times on the mountain, though, are few and far between. Most of the Christian life isn’t a walk to the mountain but a walk to the cross.

That shapes the way we sing on Sunday mornings. We don’t always sing songs that are peppy and cheery. We don’t always just sing the top ten Contemporary Christian Music songs, and some people complain about that. They say, ‘Why don’t we sing all those songs from the radio that are all positive and encouraging?’ And we’ll sing some of those, but we also think it’s important here that we sing songs that express the full range of human emotion.

We don’t just sing songs that are happy and joyful, because when we come here, not everyone is happy and joyful, and we need songs that can express the full range of human emotion. We need our songs to reflect our Psalms, and some are really sad and really hard, and that’s why we sing songs that aren’t always the peppy joyful ones. We come so that we can worship God where we’re at, and he can bring us to where he is.

(If you want to listen to the full sermon, go to our sermon archive and find the sermon titled “Jesus the King: Transfiguration”. This part starts at 32:53.)

That explanation totally clicked. I had been keeping a playlist of songs that I had only ever heard at City on a Hill, and these were among them:

If you listen to them, I think you can tell that the affect of those songs definitely feels… like a song I could enthusiastically sing when I’m not feeling super positive and upbeat. Satisfied in You is the most obvious in this direction. By no means am I always down and depressed, but I’m also not nearly as happy-go-lucky as some of my Christian friends. Yes, gasp, my heart does not immediately resound when I think of Christ’s love for me. But whatever I’m feeling, I can bring it to God, and that’s the point.

Why was this a new realization for me? Why would City on a Hill be the first place I’ve experienced songs like this? I think Fletcher’s explanation makes a lot of sense. Christian radio has jumped onto the “positive and encouraging” to the point where that’s pretty much all the music that Christians know well. Emotive Christian music (a term I made up, meaning music that expresses emotion in the way it’s sung, not just in the words themselves, so not hymns) is still only a few decades old, so it’s not surprising that the first movers in that area fixed on a certain emotional mood, and most others followed suit. Bands write songs and churches play them in their worship services that fit that mold.

Without a healthy balance, negative emotions can feel unwelcome at church and in Christian community. We can tend to get the idea that we need to be feeling the right emotions before we can go to Jesus in prayer. But Jesus’ message is completely the opposite. In the parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus gives us the prototype: We can go back to the Father with nothing to show for our squandered gifts, and he will come out and embrace us before we even get home.

And it’s for the same reason that I’ve emotionally connected with Good Friday, when we reflect on Jesus’ road to the cross. Of course, the name is deliberately ironic, as we understand that Jesus had to die, in our place for our sins. But just reflecting on that necessity, on the deepness of our sins, leads us all to a somber place, whatever we call the holiday.

This Good Friday, we met at the same elementary school that we meet at on Sunday mornings on Friday evening. The lights were dimmer than usual, and it was dark outside. In between the songs (which included Satisfied in You), we reflected on both our own sins and our own sorrows. And that’s also important; the suffering we feel in this life is not just because something’s wrong with us, and it’s not just because there’s something wrong the rest of the world. Both are at fault.

Again, I don’t love Good Friday because I’m just melancholy and morose all the time. Even if you don’t interact with me all that much, the frequency of explanation points and emoticons in my e-mails should indicate otherwise. But I do connect much better with tragedy than comedy, and Good Friday is definitely a tragedy.

So let’s all commemorate the holiday by reflecting on the negative things in life. Whether you’re a Christian or not, you can think of the things you’ve done wrong (your sins) and the wrongs that have been done to you (your sorrows). Then release all of those, holding no grudges or self-contempt, laying it at the feet of the cross if you’re a Christian.

4 responses to “Good Friday and Christian Music

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