Written and Media by Austin Schumacher
When I first considered writing this article, it struck me as rather comical that something like this should be attempted. The idea, at first, appears rather absurd. “Top Hits to Put YOU in the Lenten Spirit.” It’s not exactly Hallmark worthy. Still, the more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that we do need this. Music is very engaging and it shapes us and our perspective. Thus, why SHOULDN’T we have a list of songs that help us to focus during this holy period in the Church calendar?
First of all, let me explain a few things about this list that I have contrived. It’s not the “Top Lenten Hits” playlist. Believe it or not, such a thing exists. No, this is not a set of worship songs to play at your Lenten or Holy Week services. Actually, there are many that would probably be quite terrified if you did something like that, though I would be impressed not only at your skill, but also your courage. What this list does entail, however, are some songs, most of which I will bet money you have not heard, that I believe should be heard during the Lenten season. These are the songs that speak to the story of Christ and of us. These are the things that we should think about when considering the cross in addition to our praise and worship songs. These pieces deal with real people, real life, and real questions. Contemporary Christian Worship… not so much. Genuinely thought-provoking…absolutely.
#5: “I Love You This Much” – Jimmy Wayne
It’s lent, let’s start off with a happy song. Yay! Well, get used to it, because it will be one of the few that you hear. Falling on the country music side of the fence, this song really doesn’t say much about the actual death of Christ and really isn’t that happy at all, though it does end well. Getting back to the point, the strength behind this song is its practicality. While it may sound cliché, I think this song is especially potent for those with broken families who experience something like this, those that don’t have a father figure to look up to like this little boy. Yes, we should praise God for His sacrifice, but it is helpful to remember that He is a father for us, and this is His ultimate display of affection and love.
#4: “The Killing Tree” – Paul Coleman Trio
Hailing from the Land Down Under, PC3 gives us a haunting illustration of our place up on the cross. Bringing in some folk elements to what could be deemed a light rock piece. The song itself is rather simple, but discusses the depth our human ignorance of our own situation as well as our fears. We live the way we want to, and often we don’t recognize the suicide that we are leading ourselves into. Our paths lead one direction: to the killing tree. Still, even if we do recognize our plight, sometimes we feel that our position is what’s comfortable. Despite the pain that it causes us, to step out is to take a risk and a step away from what we know. From what’s “safe.” However, it’s in taking that step and that risk that we find our Savior “with arms spread open wide” taking our place on “The Killing Tree.”
#3: “Up Through The Ashes” – Kamelot
Now, there are some who may gasp at this suggestion. “What is he doing?!” you may ask. However, there is some method behind my madness, so bear with me for the time being. The song is certainly not done by a Christian group, but it is not often that a non-Christian band will write something so directly concerning the crucifixion of Christ. Thus, I think it is wise that we pay attention to what they are saying. What is an outsider’s perspective of us?
Through the mixture of soaring strings and heavy guitars, Kamelot does actually present some interesting thoughts. Telling the narrative of Christ’s passion through the eyes of Pontius Pilate, the song seems to vary at different points on the exact mood or message, which is similar to what Pilate himself did. At the beginning it features an almost mocking tone similar to that of the Pharisees and possibly Pilate himself. As the story plays out, however, the inflection changes slightly to something perhaps a bit more sympathetic. The title’s use in the song can even be interpreted as Jesus’ own prayer to the Father to raise Him at the end of all this. Still, in the end, the people must decide the fate of the King, and, with ganged vocals, they cry, “Give us Barabbus!” I’m not saying that this song sways one way or the other when it comes to calling Jesus’ death holy or not, but it certainly presents a unique spin on it that I think we can benefit from engaging.
#2: “Thorns” – Demon Hunter
Well, we’ve brought you from country through rock and now it’s time to hit the metal scene. Still not the hardest of their pieces, Ryan Clark chooses to use clean vocals throughout this song, which helps to display his versatility as an artist. From a thematic standpoint, “Thorns” really helps to show us the true disparity of our soul and what our deliverance truly cost. In spite of what we may think about the condition of our hearts and souls, the true story is that we are lost and damned. There’s no two ways around it. On our own, there is no hope for us. But the story does not stop there. Facing a death of cruelty and shame not to mention being left utterly alone, there is someone who faced the cross in our place, and His blood pays the price. A still time, a dark time, an almost hopeless time, but one that led us to salvation. Thus, we should not despair, but let this dark event continue to lead us back to the Father.
#1: “I’m Guilty” – KJ-52
Closing up this list is rapper KJ-52 with his gut-wrenching rhymes concerning our part in the death of Christ. The song opens and closes in a courtroom where KJ has been charged with the murder of Christ. Pleading guilty, he opens up and confesses each of us can individually be blamed for causing the death of Jesus. Claiming to be the “only one that took the life of the holy one,” this song lays down some powerful words that speak to the very guilt that lies in each and every one of us. Taking personal responsibility for killing Christ and going so far as to name himself the murderer holds a mirror up to humanity. Even on our own, we have enough sin to kill Christ. There is no other road to redemption. “I’m Guilty” calls us into account with God and forces us to recognize that it is because of us and our crimes that He went to the cross. We are all individually responsible for killing Christ. Still, this story actually comes out well on the other side closing in a very memorable fashion, but I won’t spoil it for you. Enjoy these tracks and this season, and I pray that they will help you to contemplate Lent in new ways this year.