Jesus, instructing his disciples, according to Matthew’s gospel.
Jesus didn’t give many commandments. Not in the dramatic fashion of Moses, at least. Those He did present were subtle, add-ons, or implied reinforcements.
When he walked on Earth, Jesus’ demeanor was radically different from other religious leaders. He taught with authority, yet was a common man. He wore the traditional prayer shawls of Jewish rabbis, yet not the robes associated with the temple guardians and keepers of The Law. He preached a few times in structured synagogues, but was more known as an itinerant preacher — homeless, even — who spoke in homes, at water wells, on a mount, from a boat. In all these venues His instruction was rarely bombastic, but intimate and direct.
Love God, first. Love your neighbor, more than yourself. Love…each other, yes; and especially enemies. Don’t worry. Trust God. God, the Father.
His instruction was also by example. Example that people who follow Him wanted to learn. So, they asked:
“Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
Luke 11:1 (New International Version)
Jesus introduced those who asked to a model popularly called “The Lord’s Prayer,” or, in some traditions, “The Our Father.”
The account of The Lord’s Prayer is in two gospel accounts — Matthew and Luke. Each has a slight variation on what surrounded the prayer, which indicates Jesus was presenting the prayer on more than one occasion. In each case, he was teaching and giving commands to the assembled crowd. In Luke Jesus responded to a request. In Matthew, he was more overt:
“When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.
Jesus, Matthew 6:6
Going into the closet to pray was contrast to the public rituals of the religious leaders, which he had just pointed out with an edge. Sometimes this comes to mind these days whenever there is a call for a National Day of Prayer, as if on THAT PARTICULAR DAY, all prayers will be lifted, answered and go away…until next time. As if a National Day of Prayer has some genie-in-a-lamp magic to instantly end the issues in the streets and hospitals, or sway public policy agendas.
Palm Sunday is the day that launches Holy Week, the seven days marking the final hours of Christ’s earthly ministry. Churches across the globe traditionally use the day for special reflections on the life of Jesus.
Some reflections are intense, such as copiously produced Passion Plays with casts of hundreds, viewed by people from multiple denominations or no Christian belief, who feel compelled to put aside their differences and learn more.
Not to be overlooked are the cinematic Holy Week notations when television airways are filled with reruns of Biblical movies, ranging from forgivably, dated, stylized epics; to animated children’s attractions, which are curiosity creating if light on Biblical accuracy; to technically sophisticated, actor-intense updated versions, perhaps more biblically accurate and graphically realistic, put not without doses of modern cynicism.
Without COVID-19, church leaders would have spent the last several weeks feverishly preparing for Holy Week rituals — Palm Sunday followed by Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Resurrection (Easter) Sunday, maybe with an Egg Hunt on Saturday. Big churches, small churches, even no-churches (those without buildings) would be putting last-minute touches to attract people inside their doors “for Easter.” There would be mad dashes producing, planning, preparing the music, the orders of service, the guest cards, the colors, the dramatic flair to interact with individuals who’ll be coming to church for the first time this calendar year – whose last visit was Christmas.
Though few would realize it, and fewer would confess if they did, in churches across the U.S., anyway, Holy Week to celebrate the Prince of Peace would have been a competitive, stressful. marketing project.
Come Unto Me…
Right after Ash Wednesday.
The start of the season of sacrifice.
That I AM
So, the ballgames, and schools, and businesses, and, yes, paychecks, and hugs, and running around stopped.
A friend has called stay-at-home, shelter-in-place furloughs God’s imposed Sabbath. A rest period.
Another friend has called this epoch God’s response to those who ask, “What food or activity do I give up for Lent?” Their decision has been made.
So, none of the usual Easter season activity is happening. Not even the dart to the grocer for eggs to color and hide. Of course, things could change before next Saturday. There still could be eggs… if you dared go to a grocery…and felt like putting on a mask…and standing behind a blue line. Or you could just #ChurchChannelSurf and hunt virtual eggs.
So where is the opportunity among these sobering thoughts, you may be thinking?
The opportunity is recognizing that Palm Sunday will come (“If the Lord wills”), followed by Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and, Resurrection Sunday, even under our current circumstances.
The opportunity comes in realizing that although there won’t be real donkeys to ride, nor actors dressed and undressed to play Jesus, nor seven stations or fire stations to stop in front of and reflection about the cross, we have chance to better understand how to withstand what is going on around us because of our circumstances.
Biblical Life In These Times
Among those opportunities is realizing the ironies of God’s timing, what we call #HolySpiritMoments, as gifts from God. Such as this:
Palm Sunday this year also happens to be the first Sunday of the month. The first Sunday is when many churches commemorate Jesus’ final meal with His disciples, and the instructions He gave them.
The general public is aware of this meal as “The Last Supper,” mostly because of the Renaissance painting by Leonardo DaVinci, that has become a source of mystery and mockery for centuries.
The actual dinner itself has greater purpose than speculation and conspiracy theorists imply.
Christ-followers from assorted traditions recognize that final meal in various ways and names: The Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, Communion. By any other Christian name, the ritual is a variation on the Passover meal Jewish celebrants hold honor their ancestors’ escape from Egypt centuries before Cecile B. DeMille or Disney’s people revealed the exodus to masses. It was to celebrate the Passover and hold this celebration meal with his friends and disciples the brought Jesus, a Judean (Jew), to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Christians can tend to forget Jesus’ Jewish lineage.
But because of COVID, this Palm Sunday, Communion involving live congregations is now passed over. Those who wish to guide their congregations through the ritual must give televised instructions for their viewers at home. And therein is yet another opportunity: just as “home-schooling” has been thrust upon parents as education centers have closed, God is making “a new thing” by turning the home into a center of worship.
Indeed, before stationary buildings were erected, the home was the center of religious celebration and activity. Perhaps among the other things that have happened because of COVID, God has stopped the world around us so we can remember THAT.
Just as the original Passover celebrants did, as Jewish families do today, and Jesus did as his “last supper,” for stay-at-home 21st century celebrants, The Lord’s Supper is now a family affair. The sacred, worshipful environments many people clamor to have when they “go to church” will become their responsibility at home.
The head of the house is now pastor of Shelter-in-Place Church. The head of the house is thus responsible to create a reverent, worshipful atmosphere whenever communion is held. Here are some things to consider if you’re hosting communion in your house.
Purpose of the Meal
Although The Lord’s Supper is to remember the death of Jesus, the point of remembering His death is emphasizing its purpose — liberation for those who believe in new life through His resurrection, which came a few days later. This paradox is clearer today because we know what happened. But those at the table with Him didn’t.
Imagine being in the place of the disciples who assembled that night to celebrate how God liberated their ancestors from Egyptian slavery, only to have Jesus suddenly turning the tables, changing the conversation from God’s freedom of one people group to God’s freedom for all people groups…and for that to happen He would have to be executed in a few hours (John’s Gospel, Chapters 14-16). What on earth was going on? Why was it important for the apostles, on the night He was betrayed, to take the wine and bread and repeat the exercise as He did, and for Jesus to tell them, “Do this in remembrance of me.”?
Accordingly, just as the Jewish people come together on Passover to remember and re-read the passages of the Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament) , the pastor of the home should prepare the household to do the same for Maundy Thursday or Good Friday.
Following Communion Online
Traditionally, we are accustomed to certain people serving the elements. Regular church attendees may expect this to be the duty of the pastor, deacons, designated shepherds, etc. Over the years, there have been church “debates” as to whether women should serve communion. What’s important now is your shopping list and setting the table to have the elements assembled at home and ready when it’s time.
Purchase, or pull out the representative unleavened bread: crackers, toast, wafers, etc.
Set up the Lord’s Supper around a kitchen or dining room table like any other family meal.
Assemble the representative wine: juice, water, wine (be clear about the purpose and restrictions of actual wine).
Once assembled, put the elements in place where people will sit at home, or designate who will serve as the online pastor directs.
Conducting Communion At-Home
Churches hold communion on a schedule. There’s no restriction to holding a Lord’s Supper to that location or Sundays. Jesus There are Christ-following families who hold Communion on a weekly basis, similar to Jewish families observing shabbat. Other believers include communion as part of small group worship or Bible studies. In either case, if conducting Communion aside from the church’s online guidance, here are some other steps to include.
Following John’s description before leaving to Gethsemane, “And when they had finished eating, after they had sung a hymn, they went to the Garden,” select songs to sing to celebrate the life of Christ.
Whether partaking of communion online, as an autonomous family, or daily reflecting on changes of connecting because of COVID-19, Darryl Jenkins, pastor of Faith Community Church in Itasca, IL, tells congregants to look at the word “communion” and its base language “community.”
“People are looking for community today,” he says.
Imagine, therefore, on Palm Sunday and the other nights of the week, that although millions are apparently isolated from each other because of a shelter-in-place edict, millions more…billions, perhaps — are virtually, simultaneously united in the community of one faith, one baptism, one God — The Lord Jesus Christ.
Another friend envisions that perhaps the current situation will have some reprieve on Easter morning, with the possibility of there being hours of billions of people standing and singing in honor of seeing and understanding Christ in the middle of COVID-19, even among the difficulty. It’s a vision to consider.
If you’re so inclined, lift your hands upward when you come together Sunday. You’ll see a palm Sunday as never before.
The alarm sounded. Not the harsh hounding of horns, nor the frightening bleat of an emergency. ‘Twas but a gentle, repeated angelic rhythm: harps.
Morning has broken.
My eyes opened.
A new day. A new month. New adventures await…even though old issues remain.
Today there will be
family matters: rides to arrange, lunches to make, receipts to reconcile,
budget to plan. Church to attend. People to see. Demands. Requests. Pets to
The sun has scarcely begun to light the sky, and pondering the list has already brought fatigue. I’d rather stay in bed, yet, those things still need to be done. As I am alone, before the others stir, I have time to contemplate the tasks. Or go back to sleep.
There is, of course, the television background diversion. Or the social media. Maybe the news to read in some form. But the silence beckons.
In the silence is solitude. In the silence are the sacred sounds of creation awakening. In the silence is the voice of creation. The voice of God.
People often ask how you can hear the voice of God. I’ve had the query come frequently in recent weeks. They read the headlines, or anti-social posts, and wonder if God speaks. Or even exists. They see the human failures of souls who have claimed to speak for God — priests, pastors, politicians — and wonder why God chose such flawed people to represent Him; and if God did, He must not be worth following. Not long ago, a noted writer of Christian worship songs renounced his faith citing, among other reasons, he doesn’t see God doing miracles any more.
I admit having difficulty hearing God’s voice, but not for reasons of global proportions. When I read the news of hurricanes and fires and shootings and evil people in the streets, I do neither doubt God nor His existence. In fact, those things cause me to believe in Him more. Which is why my difficulty hearing Him is personal, and my desire urgent. My problem is too many voices. Too many needs. So, early in the morning…
The questions asked of God and the distracted busyness of the day are not new. Nor are they relegated to this century.
Jesus faced such questions, temptations and doubts when He walked the earth. Studying how He responded to such moments is not only a study for Sunday school. It’s a model for those who claim to follow Him.
In his full humanity, Jesus was subject to every emotion, temptation, uncertainty as we. The New Testament writers recorded these moments in their journals we call “the gospels.” They also wrote their observations of Jesus’ habits, one of which is for mornings as this. For when the alarm sounds.
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.
Jesus knew that, though his over-arching mission — His calling — was to provide a path for people to have an eternal relationship with God, that to do so, He needed strength each day. Super natural strength. Jesus knew that, left to His own human confinements, once he began interacting with people, he could become crabby, too tired, tempted to abuse his power, or ineffective when asked. The gospel journals include snippets of snippy Jesus.
And so, when God awakened him each day with the natural alarm clock, Jesus went to a solitary place to be with Him. It’s a familiar passage to many, and a personal favorite that long ago altered my life. And in recent months, a concept I’ve gotten away from. Thus, my auditory difficulties.
Despite the familiarity with the verse, do you ever wonder what Jesus did in such moments? Dare we imagine what He prayed for in His fortresses of solitude? And how long? Perhaps Jesus’ prayers were not much different from ours.
He prayed for strength to address His to-do list. He prayed for those in His inner circle of friends and followers. He prayed for the people He would meet and serve today, asking, likely, for the Holy Spirit to provide words to say when such moments came and words failed Him.
Maybe He prayed for the religious and government leaders, that they — having been given their appointed responsibility — seek and follow the will of God. Perhaps he asked that they — the priests, pastors and posing politicians — repent, and change behaviors that are contrary to God’s law.
Yes, difficult as it is to imagine, Jesus likely prayed for himself, that He not yield to temptation when human passions were stirred. Jesus likely confessed and asked forgiveness for moments of His humanity (dare we say, sins?). Moments when He was angry, didn’t feel like_____: caught himself doing a double-take at an attractive person. Maybe He acknowledge the moment, gave thanks He didn’t yield, asked forgiveness and strength to move on.
In the early morning hours, Jesus likely reflected on the beauty God created in that quiet or desolate place; gave thanks to God for His chosen assignment; expressed how grateful He was to be chosen to lead, and asked God’s strength, wisdom, honesty and live to walk with Him and show through Him as he prepared to interact with the people during the day…the earnest, the hypocrites, the hopeful, the ailing, the people like him, the aliens among them.
In his prayer Jesus may have sung his praise, and then, sated and filled with God’s strength for the day, come to his Amen with strength for the day to fill the hopes of His followers for tomorrow.
I like to think Jesus prayed like that because…because I did.
And having completed his prayer of thanks, confession, requests and praise, Jesus may have sat in that quiet place feeling the presence of God…His voice…until choosing to rejoin the people, or until they, missing Him and needing him, called out, “Jesus! Jesus! Oh! Found You.” And He, in reply, stood and said, “Follow me.”
Later That Morning…
Not 30 minutes after completing my reflections and writing the above, I turned to my regular, two-minute audio devotional on Abide. The first image that came on the screen floored me. I broke the early morning silence with a loud guffaw. The last line of the cover photo (below) left me speechless. It was my first #HolySpiritMoment of the Day.
But wait…there was more.
We pulled into the lot of “the wrong church.” That is, when my wife and I decided where were worshipping, she thought we were heading to another place. Similar names will do that.
Rather than turn around, we continued in. We’ve been to the church frequently, presenting sometimes, but wanted to blend in and worship inconspicuously.
The preaching pastor, in my wife’s words, is “the bomb,” so we nestled in. Early into the in the sermon, #TheBomb began ticking. We began audible responses, then #TheBomb exploded #HolySpiritMoments.
The message, based in 1 Timothy 1:18-20, began tapping into an element of “Jesus’ prayer” above: individuals who have left the faith, or who misuse their responsibilities and need redirection. #HolySpiritMoments, for the record, cause me chills. I sense and see God in action.
Near the end of the message, my guffaw went to “spent.” Having already written and titled this missive, I became slackjawed when the pastor said, “Now, what has God said about ‘calling?’ “
He then began reeling 13 New Testament passages that explained the responsibilities to which a Christ-follower is called by God.
Between my early awakening, the audio devotional, the sermon theme and the 13 verses, by noon, I had no doubt about the question of whether or not God was speaking to me. He does. Loudly, clearly. He starts by saying:
“Haven’t you read this passage of Scripture …?”
So, I re-read my notes instead of taking a Sunday nap. That’ll help me sleep more soundly overnight. And get up early in the morning.
It’s not exactly a Christian worship song. In fact, it’s a popular R&B tune from the 1950s. However, as with many old songs I grew up listening to, listening through the filter of God’s ear gives a worshipful interpretation in the proper context.
“This, then, is how you should pray…” – Matthew 6:9
Modern history – as in internet browser searches – will tell you how Father’s Day began as a 20th century holiday phenomenon with 19th century roots: how the daughter of a Civil War veteran, inspired by her father who raised six children as a single parent, thought dads should be honored with a special day just as mothers recently had been saluted.
You’ll discover the Christian influence in its creation and the roles four U.S. presidents (Wilson, Coolidge, Johnson, Nixon) played over seven decades to secure the annual calendar date as a national holiday.
You’ll learn about sales and kick around the best ways to
honor your sire: a tie, food, a day off.
You’ll enjoy bits of whimsy through memes and other internet postings,
What search engines won’t tell you is the quandary this holiday, despite its Christian infused roots, has brought to modern day leaders of musical worship. The quandary is selecting appropriate songs to honor fathers during Services of Worship.
It’s not a dissimilar issue than exists for Mother’s Day. There aren’t a lot of role-specific church worship songs, and that’s all right. Celebrating Father’s Day in church isn’t one of the ordained feasts mandated by scripture. The pressure is, perhaps, self-imposed. After all, “father” is mentioned in the Bible over 400 times.
Is That All There Is?
It’s not that there AREN’T songs about fathers. In fact, one selection “Good, Good Father,” written by Pat Barrett and Tony Brown in 2014, became a Billboard No. 1 hit when recorded by Chris Tomlin in 2016. Ironically, in musician circles there’s a sense that this and similar daddy-related recent tunes have been sung so often, they’ve crept into the realm of Christian cliché – like annually trotted out Christmas carols. Okay, more obligatory than cliché.
Nothing against the song, mind you, but the searchers keep
asking, “Isn’t there something else?”
The answer is, “Yes.” An overlooked modern tune is at the end of this story. However, there is a more powerful contemporary song to be sung to honor fathers, and its lyrics are found in modern ancient text. Albert Hay Malotte, an Academy Award winning composer, found the lyrics and in 1935 created the quintessential fatherhood song, uttered not by a Christian, but Christ Himself.
Malotte called the song, “The Lord’s Prayer,” and introduced to
the world the oft-recited words of scripture that best express two principles
fundamental to Christian faith: prayer and accountability.
Interestingly, while “The Lord’s Prayer” is a popular selection among recording artists, as film underscore, and at public ceremonies (often a solo), it’s surprising to discover how often people are unaware that the words come from the mouth of Jesus and not just song lyrics or a denominational prayer book. This is true event among many Christ-followers.
By the same token, taking a closer look at the circumstances surrounding the prayer, it’s fair to say that long before June was established as a calendar month, Jesus created Father’s Day.
On a Hill Far Away
Jesus introduced “Father’s Day” in the midst of his sermon on a mount. But this public premiere was the outgrowth of private preaching He’d conducted elsewhere with a small group of followers, as reported by the gospel historian Luke:
One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teachustopray, just as John taught his disciples.”
These two traits, persistence and consistency, were the essence of the prayer that He repeated to crowds elsewhere, much like a keynote speaker with a stump speech. The text, recorded in Matthew’s gospel, is less a sermon by our contemporary comprehension than a compilation. Maybe it ought be “The Mashup on the Mount.”
A Personal Relationship With…
In the sermon, Jesus frequently reiterates the phrase “your Father” to His audience. Jesus’ use of the third person noun could be interpreted as a philosophical reference, keeping God at a distance. This is especially true in our times, depending on the listener’s paternal relationship.
Student ministry pastors often lament that among their greatest barriers uplifting The LORD to teens is because their concept of “heavenly Father” is tainted by negative relationships with their earthly father.
To a child whose father is absent from the house, or a family residing in a tyrannical household, passages extolling God’s goodness and protection, such as Psalm 68:13 – “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling” – and 38 similar promises, are empty rhetoric. Equally damaging spiritually are improper behaviors by father-figures, including clergy.
All the more reason Jesus not only taught the prayer as a mechanism to overcome weaknesses of the flesh, He preceded it with cautionary “sermonizing” about the perils of blind trust. Not only did Jesus tell the people what “Your Father” knows, He also gave them permission to speak directly to Him, then showed them how. In doing so, Third person philosophy became first-person access.
What’s In A Name?
For numerous reasons, introducing direct access to God was earth-shattering. One, going back to the burning bush, when Moses asked His name, addressing God had been formal and fearful.
“I AM” was subsequently spoken as The LORD, Yaweh, El-, and other titles that spoke about His character and attributes. Yet none of these was personal. Abraham was revered as the “father” of the Jewish nations, but Abraham was human and centuries deceased. And though Isaiah spoke of God in the First Person, Isaiah was a prophet and such references were not unusual. Prophets were supposed to talk to God. Besides, that was over 500 years earlier.
Imagine, then, what it may have been like to hear Jesus give
“This, then, is how you should pray:
‘Our Father in heaven…hallowed be your name…’ “
For the disenfranchised listener, the statement is reassuring. It’s personal, yet maintains reverence.
The statement is also dangerous, for the another reason the prayer is earth-shattering is that it establishes a firm foundation on His road to the cross.
Jesus The Protestant
In both the prayer and it’s prelude, Jesus advocates appealing to Higher Authority than earthly leaders. His prelude to the prayer unflinchingly threatens the religious status quo, for in that introduction:
Jesus busts the religious leaders for making public spectacles of prayer.
“Do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others.”
Jesus undercuts them as role models, diminishes their organized influence by eliminating the need for a priest as go-between.
“Do not be like them…for Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”
distinguishes between lengthy, generic, rituals and symbols of other beliefs,
and brief, earnest, specific, bold requests.
keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of
their many words.”
Jesus empowers personal prayer for even public matters.
“When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
The battle between the role of Jesus and the influence of religious authority has continued since. It’s the battle Martin Luther fought that led to Protestant faiths (those that “protest” convention), and that exists today between those who define “evangelical” to share the gospel or be political. What’s more important is that then, as now, is not eliminate the role church leaders, just some perceptions. Simply, Jesus he invites – hypocrites and curious alike – to change actions and have the same personal relationship that He has with His Father.
Having laid the foundation, in eight simple yet challenging sentences, Jesus then gives the principles to cultivate that relationship: reverence, submission, confession, forgiveness, provision, mercy, grace, eternal life. Malotte, who also wrote scores to The Beatitudes and The 23rd Psalm, turned those poetic principles into lyrics that may also be considered Jesus’ Father’s Day Card.
“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, it is in heaven.”
Malotte adapted the King James Version, the primary Bible translation available in in 1935. Other translations have been published since then, all copiously maintaining the accuracy and integrity of original Hebrew and Greek texts as best possible. There has been minimal push-back. Recently, however, a revision of the prayer recited in Catholic masses caused a stir seemingly as radical as when Jesus first intonation of “Our Father.”
Reactionaries groused that the Pope was approving wholesale revisions in line with revisionist political correctness. That’s been a complaint of some translations adopting a gender-neutral tone.
Reading beneath the headlines reveals that only one line is being revised…for clarity.
“Lead us not into temptation,” the Pope says, may be spoken in public recitation, as, “let us not fall into temptation.” Reason? Bad English translation; bad theology, he said.
Though not Catholic, and as one who puts Christ’s teaching above the papacy, I appreciate this clarity. For a long time “lead us not into temptation” has been had to reconcile, event for years for those who regular study scripture. Imagine its confusion upon new Christians, especially in light of the later assertion by Jesus’ brother James:
Besides, the edit is more sensible, less stressful than the ever-confusing, on-the-spot choice between saying “debts” or “trespasses” when asking forgiveness in some denominations.
Can We Only Imagine?
For all its power and simplicity, however, this prayer has also fallen into the cliché, rote chasm. It’s often referred to as “The Our Father,” as if a mantra or magic incantation. It could even be said “The Lord’s Prayer” is a misnomer. A more apt title may be “The People’s Prayer.” Or, “The Siblings’ Prayer,” since the “Our Father” kinship with the Son of God. The actual Lord’s Prayer, some instructors says, were Jesus’s words after his last supper records in John 17. He prayed for unity among His followers.
Now that I think of it, looking at both, “The People’s Prayer” and “The Lord’s Prayer,” gives an interesting ideas to address the ills facing our world, especially our nation, this Father’s Day season.
Imagine if, in the context of Jesus’ prayer for unity, Christ’s followers employed His prayer template for self and leaders…not just church leaders but, say, legislators. Like:
What if, rather than “national days of prayer,” street corner incantations, or convention center revivals, individual Christ-followers simply went into our prayer closets and applied the principles of revering God, seeking His will and provision, asked forgiveness and forgave others?
“Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”
What if, rather than reciting the “If my people…would pray” passage in 2 Chronicles, we followed Jesus’ guideline of confessing sins of greed, rudeness, and turned from our wicked ways of violence and blame?
“And let us not fall not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
Might “The Lord’s Prayer” enacted “heal our land?” If so, imagine the sound of voices, bursting from prayer closets, a grand chorus singing in unison:
“For thine isthekingdom,
and the power,
and the glory, for ever.
Would that be worthy of a Father’s Day playlist?
Songs for Father’s Day
As we did for Mother’s Day, here are a few songs about fathers that are standard and less well-known. The Marvin Gaye selection is bittersweet. A talented artist and troubled man, he was shot to death by his father. The sentiments here are, nevertheless, accurate and noteworthy as they are rooted in scripture. Thanks to Stephen A. Banks for this rare, bacon-fryin’ recording.
“Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also, his mother, who has been a mother to me as well.” — Romans 16:13
In the days when I regularly planned Services of Worship, Mother’s Day was particularly challenging, more challenging than preparing for Christmas, Easter or any other “holiday” related program. The planning challenge of those events centers on pouring through resources, coordinating production schedules, and assembling a team to share the load.
Mother’s Day is most personal. Mother’s Day is about the heart, as Luke tells us in his account of the night Jesus was born.
I’ve often envisioned that Luke’s account, written years later after Jesus had returned to The Father, was because he interviewed Mary and asked, “What do you remember about the night Jesus was born?”
“Mary remembered these things and treasured them in her heart.” — Luke 2:19
While Mary’s recollections lead us on the path of gospel glory, countless other women have no such memories. They have not given birth. That is one of the dilemmas of Mother’s Day, a realization that smacked me on a Sunday years ago when I encountered a friend softly sobbing in the lobby during the service. She was a generally cheerful woman, extremely active in ministry, who had helped plan many programs which is why she stepped out during the Mother’s Day tribute.
En route to another assignment, I did not expect to see her alone, and did an about face to inquire.
“Mother’s Day is hard,” she said.
I thought she was reflecting on her deceased mother, as many do. Instead, she spoke of her unfulfilled yearning for motherhood. She did not question God. She had no rage. She just spoke her feelings which seemed an annual response. I had no pithy words of comfort. In fact, I was tongue-tied, and maybe admitted, “I don’t know what to say.”
She thanked me for listening and smiled her infectious smile.
Lesson 1: Listening speaks louder than words.
Remembering her words, the next Mother’s Day we expanded the scope of our salute. Nothing elaborate. No big pronouncement. Just broadening the idea of what motherhood is and how it exists whether or not childbirth is involved.
The next Mother’s Day my friend stayed in the service. She did not cry. She thanked me, and I her, and I think of this moment with my single friend each May.
“And he called his wife ‘Eve,’ because she was the mother of all living.” — Genesis 3:20
When it comes to acknowledging Mother’s Day in Services of Worship, it’s important to expand our concept of what, and who, a mother is. That includes remembering there are women who have never gone through childbirth, but who are maternal. That includes uplifting women who may have been mothers but who, for assorted reasons, did not deliver. That includes saying thank you to those women who have, for whatever reason, become surrogates for our own mothers whether those females are work colleagues or classmates.
The greeting is significant for reasons beyond Mother’s Day. The greeting has a voice to us today in light of scriptural comprehension, and contemporary issues about inappropriate clergy relations, #MeToo abuse, and #ToxicMasculinity.
Consider: Paul was writing to churches that were developing multi-cultural (Greek, Roman, local) and inter-denominational (Jewish and Gentile) congregations. Paul was writing to elders and pastors about establishing order in corporate worship. So statements such as “women should keep silent” and not teach men would have been rooted in his Orthodox Jewish upbringing which included separate synagogue seating for men and women. Un-Orthodox churches being planted based upon common belief in the Jewish Messiah may not have had this background, and thus these statements may based more upon introducing established corporate order than in personal opinion.
In either context, therefore, consideration must be given for the plausibility that Paul’s perspective on women in ministry may have expanded as his mission journeys took him beyond his Orthodox community. Writing to church leaders who did not have his multi-cultural experiences may have been a way to speak to colleagues who struggled with gender responsibilities just as they struggled with questions about whether to circumsize Gentile Christ-followers.
Regardless, in the context of Romans, Paul’s naming the women who supported his ministry — Priscilla; Mary, Junia, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis — plus the sister of Neuris; and Rufus’ “mother, who has been a mother to me as well,” indicates an understanding that contradicted gender prejudice in his era, and eludes many in ours.
If naming the women wasn’t sufficient, the ultimate point is that he entrusted delivery of the Romans letter to Phoebe, very similar in how Jesus entrusted the first report of his resurrection to be delivered by Mary Magdalene.
Moreover, Phoebe delivering “Greetings” to the 28 people is not merely being cordial, as in sending a Hallmark card. A modern equivalent of the importance of “Greetings” might be that when the recipients opened Paul’s Hallmark card, the voice of Aretha Franklin would sound forth, belting: “R-E-S-P-E-C-T!” (Which was written by a man: Otis Redding.)
That’s the same principle behind “Greetings” and the laud behind ministry mothers today. Just as Paul thanked his women aides with no particular holiday (does “Just Because” count?), in an era with resurgent feminism, it’s important to remind male and female Christ-followers of the importance of women in ministry and culture. Paul’s letter is a model. So is reviewing Old Testament scripture and the relationships of Jesus.
Mother’s Day seems an apt time.
“Who is my mother…? Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” — Jesus (Matthew 12:38-49
Throughout our congregations, in our classrooms, in the houses down the street are women who do the will of our Father on earth as it is in Heaven. An array of women across generations who may not have offspring, but who have Eve’s instinct of motherhood and responded to those who cry, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child.”
They are teachers, attorneys, widows, First Ladies, would-be preachers, nurses, and sorority sisters. They are the cousins and aunts who care-take, fix meals, run errands, lend an ear, dole out advice, or simply pray when a parent or spouse is absent or otherwise engaged.
In our times, fewer people recognize the difference between gender abilities and gender responsibilities. While there are gifts each has that are unique, there are others that are best designed to be used collectively. While Scripture introduces, and Jesus reinforces, this union by noting, “the two shall become one flesh,” a modern revelation of the connection has been expressed in the film, “Jerry McGuire.” After recognizing he has taken his girlfriend, Dorothy, for granted, the self-serving protagonist tracks down his forsaken beloved and confesses, “You complete me.”
It could be said that oneness — completion — is at the core of discussions regarding “feminism” and “women’s rights.” If so, Christ-followers have a great contribution to the conversation by demonstrating wholeness in Jesus, the first “feminist,” for ultimately, even Paul acknowledged and reminded the church in Galatia, in Christ “there is neither male nor female” for we are all one.
In some ways, this is what Mother’s Day celebrations, and greetings from Paul’s letters, are about: affirmation. That, as people, our contributions make a difference and are appreciated.
Whether or not a woman has given birth should not be the litmus test for motherhood, any more than a man’s ability to fertilize is indicative of being a father. What is essential is recognizing a woman’s gift to nurture and complete God’s image in our families and communities. That gift is worth worshipping and you don’t have to give cards and flowers to celebrate that.
You don’t HAVE to, but they sure help.
For Further Conversation
We cited some New Testament Scripture samples where women are edified. What are your thoughts on these passages? What other illustrations might you add?
“God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing….” — Psalm 68:6a (New International Version)
All music that tells the story of redemption through Jesus Christ is gospel music. Yet in some circles “gospel music” is confined to a niche — a certain style of music, generally music associated with African-Americans.
True, while there are variations of “gospel music” depending on region (usually a modifying region of the United States: Southern gospel, Appalachian gospel — is there such a thing as Asian gospel or Indian gospel?) , for the purposes of this conversation, track with the premise that in many views, the phrase “gospel music” is synonymous with “black gospel music.”
In that sense, components of “gospel music” are symbolized by two easily identifiable images: a choir, and robes. These symbols come from a powerful aesthetic in African-American heritage; yet there are dangers in defining gospel music and African-Americans by these two symbols alone.
One danger is that of co-opting the sound of gospel music for other messages. Think, for instance, how often you have heard “gospel music” in a film, television program or commercial, none of which is associated with the gospel of Christ? Enjoyable as the sound may be, the listener must discern the context.
The other danger is underestimating the impact of various styles of music upon liberating Africans in America. That liberation developed as the robed-choirs connected the music of the times and the regions where they lived with the lyrics from which they were rooted: the Hebrew and New Testament scriptures those that professed good news gospel music of Jesus Christ as He intended — to link man and God.
More than Black’s History
Exploring that link, and telling the story of how gospel music has developed in the United States is the purpose of “Freedom Song,” one of the ensemble plays from the Kingdom Impact Theater Ministries history cycle. The script was created in 2011 as reader’s theater presentation in response to a request for a church’s African-American History Month program. Since then, “Freedom Song” has been presented annually as part of church and corporate commemorations in February. Because of those performances, “Freedom Song” has received subsequent off-season productions – not just during African-American history month.
Its themes extend beyond February, beyond the topic of physical slavery in the U.S., beyond the confines of the American shores. The weaving of Scripture, song history and musical genres create a tale of liberation through Christ from an assortment of enslaving circumstances and behaviors.
Indeed, taking into account the headlines of any given day — perhaps, even, the last hour — it’s natural to conclude that if cries and flights to freedom are universal, then perhaps the key to liberation is beyond the state of any particular union. Or nation. This ageless human cry to escape through a designated liberator became more recognizable as the music listened to over time and in different places became more poignant when heard collectively, especially as the tales of how they were created or utilized were discovered.
Films & Noir
Over 30 songs from America’s colonial slavery to millennial technology bondage are sampled, dramatized and in the program that is staged as an abbreviated one-act or movie-length outreach complete with a post-performance talk-back. In the course of the evening, the audience receives new insight into traditional, beloved gospel music, and is introduced to newer selections that don’t have the gospel music sound, but deliver the gospel of Christ message. Researching the songs that inspired the script provided more insight than performance times allow. Nevertheless, the insights and sounds are too important to NOT share. And so, we compiled most of the songs that inspired the script’s creation into a playlist, assembled on our KIT Ministries YouTube Channel, and have written short essays about each song or song sequence. We will post those essays and the songs on these pages and our social media pages in coming days as our commemoration of how Scriptures have shaped African-America.
Visit these Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest pages for daily posts on individual songs. Most of the songs will be posted during African-American History Month. However, don’t be surprised if posting continues into the days after Feb. 28. Just as African-American history occurs beyond the end of February, the gospel of Christ cannot be contained to just 28 days.
Please consider adding the entire “Freedom Song” playlist to your YouTube channel.
Dr. Kemp gives great detail and colorful anecdotes about how many gospel songs in the U.S. developed through painstaking adaptation and recording from their roots among African Tribes and maintained throughout despite the efforts to disassociate the slaves from those roots on these shores.
Kemp also relates the development of those songs on record, mostly through the efforts of Rev. James Cleveland, founder of the Gospel Music Workshop of America.
Because we were asked to create a new script based in faith and African-American history, we are not touring “Freedom Song” this February. It’s the first time in five years. “Freedom Song” is available after Easter, and our new show, “Strolling Down MLK Street,” has limited availability through the spring and thereafter.
Since both shows evoke questions and conversation, we want to make available not just the music and song stories that we’ve employed, but also other research and commentaries about faith and ethnicity in America. Not just because this is African-American History Month. Just because they’re fascinating and sometimes fun. Like, we hope, the three below: previous faith-race-and-history blogs from Worship Wonderings and a MEMoFromMichaelEdgarMyers that seem to still have relevance as well as an occasional off-kilter perspective about race. Feel free to read, ask questions, share a thought, and enjoy.
Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom. — Psalm 90:12
People wonder if God talks to people anymore. People wonder about people who say God talks to them.
Since this author is convinced of both — that God does talk to people, and God speaks to me — you may wonder about me. You’re welcome to do so. It’s a long line, and I’m in the front. I wonder about me a lot myself.
We should be clear about what we mean by this speaking with God business.
It is not unexpected that there is uncertainty about people who say they’ve been in conversation with God and instructed by Him to do certain things. It started with Moses and the burning Bush, continued through and number of old testament prophets, and the new testament church builders — Jesus and Paul.
God-speak lunacy has been attached to crusaders, warriors, soldiers, church leaders, contemporary politicians and media practitioners. Indeed, a reason for much of our American party fighting is how either side co-opts God-speak to justify a personal cause that affects public policy.
Example: I recently read a New Yorker reprint talking of how George W. Bush spoke of how God told him to invade Iraq; contrasting that point of view with how Muslim opponents contend the same type of conversation with Allah compelled jihad. So, to be clear, I’m not talking about a monumental overthrow of issue that will make headlines for a news cycle.
I’m not disputing the perspective of faith as an instrument of public policy, nor supporting it. Not in this piece, if I were to take a position. I merely point out the differences of how God-speak exists today to further clarify what I mean — to distance myself from the lunacy bend as I prepare a journey and extend an invitation to join me.
The journey is simple. It’s a reading journey. One day at a time. There will be bumps and detours en route, but I guess that’s part of the fun. Kinda like those college road trips. “On the Road” with Jack Kerouac. Driving across “Route 66” on TV in a blue Corvette.
The road map here is just the Verse of the Day. I get one in my box each morning from You Version, one of the Bible apps I employ. My goal — the POINT — is to reflect, mediate and journal on how God speaks to me through that verse. That’s all. That’s our journey.
I have no idea what the verses are until I see them. I’ve done this intermittently for years…the journaling from Scriptures. The process has yielded personal thoughts and many scripts I’ve written for Kingdom Impact Theater. Now in my Medicare days, the Scriptures inspire me differently. “Speak” to me differently; particularly in light of the daily events around us. Cultural and, yes, political.
I think that’s a beauty of reading Scriptures: the assortment of personal understandings at various points of our lives. On one level, we read them for knowledge. On another level, for guidance. There’s also a dangerous level in which some read Scriptures in order to bully…to manipulate an agenda. Yet, the bully pulpit can be defused and redirected by maturity — maturity through life experience, or through an equally forceful intervention by a more insightful, direct colleague who invokes the admonitions of Jesus and Peter and the litmus test of John.
“There will be false teachers among you,” the apostle Peter is said to have written to first century churches (Read more in context).
“Dear friends,” the apostle John wrote to other establishing churches, “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God.” (Read more in context).
Such centuries-old statements are cannons and whispers in my head today whether I’m reading Scripture, hearing a sermon, or watching a news interview with an evangelical-du-jour. I am intrigued in such moments when a passage or verse comes to mind that, as one-time talk show host Arsenio Hall would say, “Makes me say, ‘Hmmm.’ ” I think that’s when God’s talking, and, yes, I find that fascinating. And scary. And fun.
So, my desire to read them — and sit through sermons live or revisit online — has taken a new purpose. Perhaps like me, you have endeavored to begin a new year determined to read all 66 books of the Bible in 365 days, and the 24-hour grace of a leap year. Perhaps, like me, you’ve achieved the task; or perhaps, unlike me, you’ve read the Scriptures in their entirety numerous times, and have already begun such a journey. You’ve perhaps even made a point about sharing how many times, or how many Bible translations you’ve completely read through. I applaud your discipline, and ask: “How often in reading have you had that Aresenio Hall Moment of “Hmmm?” How often has your read of Scriptures been fun? Breathtaking like a rollercoaster ride? Skydive free fall? Mental white water rafting?
Daft, you say? Maybe. But when I read the verse today — at the start of a new year, “teach us to number our days;” and I am more certain that Moses’ prayer to God is also God’s voice to me saying “Don’t waste any more time.”
It’s the opposite voice of when I would start the day reading my horoscope and hoping something good would happen or fretting about the thing to watch out for.
I am also calmed and bemused by the Proverb posted on January 1 — “In their hearts humans plan their course, but The Lord establishes their steps.” — in contrast to the rituals surrounding resolutions, annual goal-planning, or good luck dietary meals designed to make the next 365 days go better than good riddance to the last 12 months.
At the same time, the verses leave me humbled in light of the year-end posts of dear friends who recount their horrible personal challenges of the year — be they severe illness, multiple deaths of close friends and family, or just the inability to make ends meet. In each case, no doubt, the last year began as this — with good riddance and hope in their hearts.
In most of the cases of my friends who have suffered, most of them also recognized their achievements in spite of the losses. In deed, several may say had it not been for the losses, the impact of their achievements would have been less…or not at all.
So, collectively, these events — plus the challenges in our own household — gave pause in the predawn quiet of this day when verse 12 came into my reading, and spawned not just a momentary read, but a thirst for more. So I read the entirety of Psalm 90 which speaks of mortality, promised years, and God’s attributes — both His anger and His compassion.
Moses, the author of the Psalm, concludes his conversation with this request:
“May the favor of the Lord Our God rest on us — establish the work of our hands for us; yes, establish the work of our hands.”
The lesson of numbering my days and establishing my work speak loudly as a freelance artist, especially since they were the first words I saw upon awakening the morning after a two-month assignment ended the night before. Actors or jazz musicians will tell you that often the power of a selection is less the script or notes on the staff, but the offbeat. What’s spoken behind the line; the subtext.
So, the voice of God that also speaks through His creation (nature), His people (friends and enemies as well as clergy), His Spirit (“Hmmmmm”) as well as the printed text tells, me this:
“Stop saying, ‘I don’t have enough time,’ or, ‘I wish I wish I had 28 hours,’ or, ‘I’ll get to it,’ or, ‘There aren’t enough hours in the day.’ Stop saying that, if you say you believe in me.”
Numbering my days is God telling me, “Look, you choose to believe me and in me. So since you do, and you know I am creator, use the 24 hours I’ve given you as best you can. Given all the things you have to do or wish to do, which is the best to do today: Binge watch, or read? Social media rant, or conversation? Procrastinate, or create? Your choice. Just realize, the days, like the hairs on your head, are Numbered. And you are bald.”
A great difficulty with contemporary celebrations of Christmas is the misconception of the events and timing of the birth of Jesus. This occurs even among Christians Believers, particularly in Western cultures. The problem? The prevailing concept that Christmas climaxes on a singular date: December 25.
Yes, there are further celebrations of Christ’s birth in assorted denominations – the 13 days of Christmas continuing through the Epiphany in Catholic and related congregations; and the remembrance in the Orthodox Church observed January 7, or 12 days after the “traditional” Christmas.
However, if you look around, come December 26, “the Christmas spirit” begins dissipating. Observe three tendencies: the urgency to remove decorations; the rush to return gifts; the reduction of Christmas songs in public. Even the most earnest pastors and worship music leaders may wonder how many weekends after December 25 should the congregation continue singing “Christmas” songs in Services of Worship.
The transitional songs of the Kingdom Impact Theater production “Carol Story” belie the idea that Christmas music should go away immediately after December 25. Indeed, a number of Christmas selections build on the concept of evangelizing – that is, telling others the Good News of salvation through Messiah’s birth. Lyrics of three carols, “Angels We Have Heard On High,”“O Come, All Ye Faithful,” and “I Wonder as I Wander,” can be viewed as tools in the on-going witnessing concept first noted here in “Go Tell It On The Mountain.” Taken as a whole, these lyrics should remind Christ-followers that the birth of the baby was the beginning of the Christmas story, not its conclusion, and their a responsibility to share this information.
To grasp this idea, it’s necessary to review the scriptural timeline of the Christmas narrative rather than Hallmark cards. The Biblical story recorded in Luke Chapter 2 indicates that Jesus was born at night. So, unlike us who often open presents at the crack of dawn, Mary and Joseph’s gift of parenthood didn’t arrive until nightfall … at the END of the day.
(Jesus wasn’t swaddled in cloths on Christmas Eve, either, for it didn’t exist yet. Though we’ll give some allowances for a right-after-midnight arrival, meaning the shepherds COULD have been stirred by middle-of-the-night celestial viewings).
By the time the shepherds saw the stars and singing angels, and walked (or ran) to see this thing, arriving at the manger took time. And it wasn’t the same evening as the three visitors from the East recorded in Matthew Chapter, whose account of the Wise Men’s arrival likely was two years later.
Indeed, for point of conversation, it’s possible that the Wise Men’s encounter with King Herod was less about the birth itself, but as a result of what occurred afterwards:
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. —
Gospel of Luke, Chapter 2, Verses 15:18 (New International Version)
Three things did happen that night that continue in today’s Christmas season: 1) people came to worship the child, believing the Old Testament (Hebrew) prophecies were fulfilled after 500 years; 2) witnesses went and told others the significance of the child’s birth; 3) others came to discover for themselves, and began to ask questions.
This worship and investigation led to the wonderfully imagined nativity scenes which decorate our landscapes and homes. However, these are a composite of what happened over time, not on the night of, Hallmark notwithstanding.
Three songs in the middle passage of “Carol Story” capture this sense of “shepherds’ telephone line” that inspired the crowds to visit Bethlehem and ponder what occurred. Their lyrics inspired a poetic encounter between the shepherds heading to the manger and the people they meet on the way to Bethlehem. Those people, like us, have questions.
“Shepherds, why this jubilee…?”
“Angels we have heard on high…”
“Come, all ye faithful! Join the triumph of the skies!”
(Sotto voice): “I wonder, as I wander…”
— Songs Lyrics, adapted in “Carol Story”
The questioning lyrics come from a latter-day carol from Appalachia, representing a person curious about the possibility the newborn babe could be the prophesied savior, while at the same time questioning one’s own belief in Christ during a time of crisis, period. Questioning occurs even among those who have heard the scriptures for years. Ask a teenager, as we discovered at a high school dinner party years ago.
The story of how this folk carol from rural 1930s America came to be a beloved Christmas witness is its own miracle. The accompanying video, a live performance by Vanessa Williams, maintains the reflective intimacy of the lyrics despite an orchestra accompaniment.
That solitude is contrasted by the acappella power of Italy’s SoundDiva Classical Choir whose harmonies in the French carol “Angels We Have Heard on High,” are a scaled-down version of how the Heavenly Host may have sounded singing, “Gloria! In excelsis Deo,” (“Glory to God in the Highest!” Which is echoed as “Carol Story” some to its climax (in days to come).
The idea of inviting people to Christ, and musically sharing the gospel door-to-door and outside church buildings, is captured in the remarkable violin-driven flash-mob “O Come All Ye Faithful,” by The Five Strings. This relatively new video reached the Kingdom Impact Theater offices via a friend’s private social messenger as a Christmas greet to be shared. And so, we do. Here. Interspersed with James Chadwick’s translated lyrics of “Angels We Have Heard on High,” are a wonderful interview dialogue: A question asked, a story told, an invitation made to join. Heading to Bethlehem, we imagine they encounter a new curious fellow: a little drummer boy.
SoundDiva Classical Choir
SoundDiva is actually a production studio in Italy that’s dedicated to improving the quality and production. The assembled choir in this video is directed by Antonello Martina for part of a series demonstrating the work quality by the studio.
The Five Strings are a performing family band from Utah. The band is made up of 5 siblings, ranging in ages from 8-18. The Five Strings’ high energy concerts showcase eight different instruments including violin, piano, guitar, mandolin, ukulele, percussion, five-part harmonies, clogging, and choreography.
Vanessa L. Williams is an American singer, actress, and fashion designer. She initially gained recognition as the first woman of African-American descent to receive the Miss America title in 1983. Since then her critically acclaimed work in film, television, music and Broadway has been recognized by every major industry award affiliate including 4 Emmy nominations, 11 Grammy nominations, a Tony nomination, 3 SAG award nominations, 7 NAACP Image Awards and 3 Satellite Awards. She often performs in the Rob Mathes Holiday Concert, from which this clip was recorded.
It may be fair to conclude that the first Christmas carol created on the shores of the U.S. was by Americans of African descent. That is, African-Americans.
Keep in mind that, in #CarolStory, the ten-minute play by Kingdom Impact Theater Ministries, the definition of a Christmas carol is a song that includes the salvation message of Christ amid the story of the birth of Jesus.
Until “Go Tell It on the Mountain” was put to paper by John Wesley Work Jr., in 1906, the traditional carols sung in the States originated in Europe. Work collected, transcribed and published numerous songs born from the oral traditions of African-American slavery. Many were sung by the original Fisk Jubilee Singers after the Civil War.
“Go Tell It…” embodies the faith many slaves deeply held in Christianity as their route to freedom once they unraveled the scriptures for themselves. This contasted with acquiescence to the limited Bible knowledge misappropriated by their owners to justify enslavement.
As with many slave songs, “Go Tell It…” is coded. The title implies the direct evangelical imperative to go and tell others of Him that Jesus gave after His resurrection; His earlier declaration that even the rocks would tell who He is, and the post-birth sharing by the birth by the shepherds and the Wise Men. Such allusions made the song palatable to owners who missed the potential abolitionist cues “to go” from place to places and prepare for liberation.
The latter idea was not lost upon civil rights advocates in the 1960s who adapted the tune and lyrics as a freedom song.
Many recorded arrangements of “Go Tell It…” embellish the lyrics with joyous gospel funk rhythms, and live choirs embrace the audience sing-along qualities. Either interpretation is effective. The #CarolStoryPlaylist includes video versions that show the universality of the lyrics, and represent the sacred passion of the Negro spirituals which Works captured from the Jubilee Singers.
The playlist again employs a rendition by the Queen of Gospel, Mahalia Jackson, that reflects the soulful hope characteristic in spirituals. The universal influence of “Go Tell It…” is illustrated in two videos borrowed from the playlist of “Freedom Song,” the Kingdom Impact Theater Ministries historical program about African-American music and Biblical scriptures. One is a recording by a choir in Oslo, Norway. The other, by the 1960s folk music trio Peter, Paul and Mary, captures the abolitionist spirit by adapting the lyrics as a civil rights anthem show.
Not as well known as the European composers before him, many of the authors of gospel and Christmas songs afterwards, or even the Fisk Jubilee Singers whose music he catalogued and chronicled, John Wesley Work Jr. Is an important person to know and study. And so, we link.
Mahalia Jackson was an American gospel singer. Possessing a powerful contralto voice, she was referred to as “The Queen of Gospel.” She became one of the most influential gospel singers in the world and was heralded internationally as a singer and civil rights activist. She was described by entertainer Harry Belafonte as “the single most powerful black woman in the United States”. She recorded about 30 albums (mostly for Columbia Records) during her career, and her 45 rpm records included a dozen “golds”—million-sellers.
Oslo Gospel Choir is a Norwegian gospel choir centred in Oslo, Norway conducted by Tore W. Aas. The choir started in 1988 and has become one of the most successful in Europe and America. They have released around 20 albums. They are very much influenced by the American black gospel sound and Andraé Crouch is a major source of inspiration, with his approach in taking the gospel out of the churches and into other arenas, reaching a larger audience. The choir has sold over 1.5 million albums.
Peter, Paul and Mary was an American folk group formed in New York City in 1961, during the American folk music revival phenomenon. The trio was composed of tenor Peter Yarrow, baritone Noel Paul Stookey and alto Mary Travers. The group’s repertoire included songs written by Yarrow and Stookey, early songs by Bob Dylan as well as covers of other folk musicians. After the death of Travers in 2009, Yarrow and Stookey continued to perform as a duo under their individual names.
The original poem which begat the song, written in 1739 by Methodist pastor and song writer Charles Wesley, was entitled “Hymn for Christmas Day.” Wesley’s hymn was an epic with over 10 stanzas. It included words that showed Wesley’s intellect but left listeners scratching their heads. Wesley’s pastor friend, George Whitfield, pointed this out and suggested revisions, simplifying the text.
Half of the Wesley-Whitfield stanzas survived into the next century and made an impression on English composter William Cummings. Cummings liked the lyrics, but not the slower, Easter-season tune Wesley had composed (“Christ The Lord is Risen Today.”) However, Cummings felt the words were compatible with the tune of the popular “Gutenberg Cantata” recently written by German composer Felix Mendelssohn. Cummings believed Mendelssohn’s symphonic arrangement captured the implied awe and power of a sky full of “a multitude of the heavenly host praising God,” the passage in the Gospel of Luke that inspired Wesley’s hymn.
In 1855 the Wesley-Whitfield-Cummings-Mendelssohn composition debuted with the structure changes familiar today, but maintaining the essence of the words first recorded centuries before in the gospel of Luke:
Centuries later, these words and music created controversy when used in what is not one of the most iconic annual Christmas television programs, “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown,” the 1965 TV special that almost didn’t occur.
The overt gospel presentation that author Charles Schulz included in the script had CBS network offices and sponsors concerned. They were okay with the “Peanuts” gang rendering one of the most poignant versions ever of “Hark! The Herald…” as they caroled at Snoopy’s house with Charlie Brown’s revived tree to end the show.
What scared the executives was an earlier scene when Linus explains the true meaning of Christmas by reciting the gospel of Luke in the pageant rehearsal. This makes Charlie Brown one of the few programs that directly speaks the gospel of Christ for a non-church audience. There was the rub. Fearing a public backlash about show including the story of Christ in Christmas, CBS wanted the scene cut. Schulz stood firm. No gospel; no “Peanuts.” And unto us, a franchise was born.
Many wonder if – or how – the should could be created and aired today. Nevertheless, the evolution of “Hark! The Herald…” from lengthy, erudite poem, to symphonic anthem, to simple children’s song, to uncomfortable gospel message, point out the enduring strength of the essay researched by Luke the historian.
Poetically, the visuals of the lyrics as presented in #CarolStory starts a sequence of dialogue between the shepherds and the angels. “Do You Hear What I Hear?,” another carol more recently associated with a children’s cinema favorite (“Gremlins”), is added to the conversation to begin the evening’s journey. First , hearing, then seeing the angels, the shepherds are moved from fear to comfort as they interpret the angels’ mission and instructions to begin a Pied-Piperesque journey to Bethlehem, picking up a drummer boy and others as they go away to the manger.
The videos here — the majesty of Mendelssohn’s anthem in Alan Silvestri’s arrangement of “Hark! The Herald…,” contrasted with its quiet message to Charlie Brown and connected by the intimacy of Johnny Mathis asking, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” — allow us to experience various ways the Lord speaks: with herald trumpets and a sweet, still voice.
See December Archives (left) for other “Carol Story” stories.
Alan Anthony Silvestri is an American composer and conductor known for his film and television scores. He is best known for his frequent collaboration with Robert Zemeckis. He is a two-time Academy Award and Golden Globe Award nominee, and a three-time Saturn Award and Primetime Emmy Award recipient.
Vincent Anthony Guaraldi was an American jazz pianist noted for his innovative compositions and arrangements and for composing music for animated television adaptations of the “Peanuts” comic strip, as well as his performances on piano as a member of Cal Tjader’s 1950s ensembles and for his own solo career which included the radio hit Cast Your Fate to the Wind.
John Royce “Johnny” Mathis is an American singer of popular music. According to Guiness Music Chart historian Paul Gambacini, Johnny Mathis has sold well over 360 Million Records Worldwide making him the 3rd biggest selling artist of the 20th Century. Mathis has received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame for three separate recordings.