I have long understood that our theology is shaped by what we sing and I am reflecting on what that means for me this Easter. This is my first Easter after ordination so I am much more involved in the Easter liturgy than I have been in the past and the repeated retelling of the passion narratives in different forms got me thinking about what has shaped my thinking about the cross. I am not going to tell my entire salvation story but offer a vignette of one of those significant occasions where I only realize the significance in looking back. A song of passion helped to ignite my passion.
I came back to God in my early 20s and a couple in the church I had started going to took me under their wing and they often had me round for a meal. I can still vividly picture the room, the record player (I am that old!), and the first time I heard the song “How much do you think you are worth?” I was a quiet, shy young woman, lacking in self esteem and this song somehow gave me a new way of understanding and perhaps more importantly appropriating the meaning of the cross for me. That the song contained lots of questions was helpful, it was asking me to consider what Jesus had done, not telling me what to think and the opening lyrics resonated with my egalitarian views:
Is a rich man worth more than a poor man, a stranger worth less than a friend… The answer being clearly no in my worldview! However, the words that impacted me most were these:
If you heard that your life had been valued
That a price had been paid on the nail
Would you ask what was traded,
How much and who paid it
Who was He and what was His name?
If you heard that His name was called Jesus
Would you say that the price was too dear?
Held to the cross not by nails but by love
It was you broke His heart, not the spear!
Would you say you are worth what it cost Him?
You say ‘no’, but the price stays the same.
If it don’t make you cry, laugh it off, pass Him by,
But just remember the day when you throw it away
That He paid what He thought you were worth.
How much do you think He is worth, boy?
Will anyone stand up and say?
Tell me, what are you willing to give Him
In return for the price that He paid?
I had a slow realization over the next couple of years that I was willing to give Jesus everything and that culminated in me giving up my job and working for YFC as a volunteer. This song of passion has changed me, I periodically play it and although the non-inclusive language grates a little, there is still power in the lyrics which reminds me of how I felt many years ago realizing how much Jesus loved me and then how this would change my life. Back then I didn’t understand that there were controversies over theologies of atonement, I just heard through the song that I was worth dying for and that following Jesus gave me a purpose to live for at a time when some of my dreams had died. It also helped me to understand that a significant part of the message that I was called to preach was that we are all equal in God’s sight, and that God loves us and values us and we need to see ourselves through God’s eyes, through the eyes of the one who died on a cross for us.
I realized too when I was thinking about writing this post that my favourite Christmas and Easter songs answer the question posed at the end of the song:
Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small, love so amazing so divine, demands my soul my life my all (When I survey).
What can I give him, poor as I am, if I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb; if I were a wise man I would do my part; yet what I can I give him, give my heart (In the bleak midwinter).
However, with these songs I can’t quite identify what came first the passion or the song – do I love the songs because they reflect the passion I feel for Jesus or was my passion for Jesus built by singing such songs? Whatever the answer, I realise I need to be a little careful about what I sing as there is some truth in the statement we are what we sing.
This prayer, from Compline for Passiontide, encapsulates what I have learnt from singing songs of passion and hearing the passion narrative. I have prayed it the last two evenings as I journey through holy week with Hodge Hill Church:
Almighty God, as we watch at the foot of the cross of your Son, help us to see and know your love for us, so that in humility, love and joy we may place at his feet all that we have and all that we are, through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.
How much do you think you are worth? Graham Kendrick Make Way Music, 1974.