My Dear Shepherds,
Who could’ve imagined a year ago that on Easter 2020 virtually every church in America, and countless others beyond, would be closed and silent. How, in heaven’s name, can Christians celebrate Christ’s resurrection when we cannot sing together?
We will come to Easter Sunday as reluctant soloists, with only our own voices, without the band or choir, guitar or organ. Now we really must sing by faith, not only our faith in Christ but our faith that our single voices will be joined with countless others “before the throne of God above,” that our solitary wavering alleluias do not echo in our empty room but are heard by our risen Christ in harmony with the “tongues of men and angels” in the vast throne room of the Triune God.
We sing this year, more sobered by mortality, by our frailty, and the fragility of the so-called life around us. The ashen specter of death has come close to home. My wife and I have lost two dear friends to this terrible virus. Laments in their heartsick minor keys are now the lyrics of our souls and times. Perhaps our hearts will be more in tune with Friday’s grief and death’s near triumph. We might need to reach for the Good in Good Friday more than we have in the past.
August Wilson, the great American playwright, wrote a play called Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.Set in Pittsburgh in 1911, it is about the children of slaves trying to forge their new identities in the Steel City. The main character is a kind of lost soul named Loomis, a man running away. Late in the play a sage named Bynum sizes him up. “Now, I can look at you, Mr. Loomis, and see you a man who done forgot his song. Forgot how to sing it. A fellow forget that and he forget who he is. Forget how he’s supposed to mark down life.”
We need resurrection songs more than ever, not merely as tuneful signals of spring, but because fear and death are hard upon us, tempting us to forget who we are. If we are to shine in this “warped and crooked generation like stars in the sky” we need songs of everlasting life, of our immortality in Christ, already budding in each and all of us. Singing is one way—one profoundly Christian way—that the Light of life shines from us. It isn’t that the world around us will hear us singing. (This Easter almost no one but our families will hear us.) But the songs of resurrection will animate us, invigorate us. We will be more like the risen Christ for our singing.
Refresh your resurrection repertoire, first, from Scripture—like the last chapters of the Gospels’ stories, 1 Corinthians 15, and Revelation 5 and 7. Listen to Jonah and the stories of the lions’ den or the fiery furnace, favorite Easter stories of the earliest church. Find today’s tunes and lyrics in your old hymnals and online.
This Easter, we may sit alone but we will not sing alone. Let’s take our cues from the 31 Nashville studio singers, each singing alone on their cell phones, their voices blended into one acapella chorus, telling us and our Lord Jesus, “It is well with my soul.”
I leave you with one verse from the old hymn, “How Can I Keep from Singing?”:
What though my joys and comforts die? The Lord my Savior liveth;
What though the darkness gather round! Songs in the night He giveth:
No storm can shake my inmost calm While to that refuge clinging;
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, How can I keep from singing?
Be ye glad!