The Easter song

Pastor Glenn Townend reflects on the most significant Easter song ever written.

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(Credit: AUC Resources)

What is your favourite song about what Jesus did for us? What song explains best for you the significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus?

My favourite hymn is Isaac Watts’, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross . . . “on which the Prince of glory died, my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.” Then there is It Is Well With My Soul with “My sin, oh the joy of that glorious thought, my sin not in part but the whole is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, Oh my soul.” Or How Great Thou Art: “And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing, sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in, That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing, He bled and died to take away my sin.” Or O Praise the Name: “I cast my mind to Calvary, Where Jesus bled and died for me. I see His wounds, His hands, His feet, My Saviour on that cursed tree. His body bound and drenched in tears, They laid Him down in Joseph’s tomb. The entrance sealed by heavy stone, Messiah still and all alone. Then on the third at break of dawn, The Son of heaven rose again, O trampled death where is your sting? The angels roar for Christ the King.” Or Living Hope, which includes, “The God of ages stepped down from glory to wear my sin and bear my shame, the cross has spoken, I am forgiven, The King of Kings calls me His own” and “Then came the morning that sealed the promise, Your buried body began to breathe, Out of the silence, the Roaring Lion declared the grave has no claim on me.”

There are so many more songs that highlight the depth, breadth and core of biblical theology—the gift of Jesus Christ.

Sometimes I sing these songs and I have to stop singing—the depth of the words stir my inner being and I am overwhelmed. Other times tears roll down my cheeks—I am contemplating and crying in thanks. Yet other times I just want to sing at highest volume—because Jesus deserves everything in response. Such songs help express the profound enormity of the gift of Jesus. The tune helps us to remember these songs, which remind us of the heart of the biblical gospel.

Jesus sang a song when He was on the cross. The Scriptures say that He did it in a loud voice. The words are well known even in Aramaic, “‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Mark 15:34 ESV). This is the first line of Psalm 22. The heading for this psalm is, “To the choirmaster: according to the Doe of the Dawn. A Psalm of David.” So we know this psalm was a song and we also know the name of the tune. In Scripture it has 31 verses. It seems to me that Jesus had this song on His mind while suffering on the cross because it mirrored and prophesied His experience. The first line was just a reminder of the rest of the passage.

Jesus felt abandoned as David did, “All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; . . . He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him;” (vv7,8). Then it explains what happens to Him and His clothes: “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint” (v14). “A company of evildoers, encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet,“ (v16). “They divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots” (v18).

But Psalm 22 also shares the absolute trust Jesus had in His Father in this time of extreme need. “In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame” (vv4,5). “But you, O LORD, do not be far off! O you my help, come quickly to my aid!” (v19).

Finally, it shares the global impact of Jesus’ sacrifice. “The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD!” (v26). “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you” (v27).

It seems that in His last excruciating breath Jesus was referring all those who witnessed His death to the psalm that predicted the whole experience—actions, feelings and significance. That is the power of the most significant Easter song. I hope all of us sing the good news of Jesus this Easter—it will reveal the depth of our love.