Music of Holy Week: Hymns and worship songs navigate the emotional journey from Palm Sunday to Easter
, From The Decatur Daily
From the jubilation of Palm Sunday to the despair of Maundy Thursday to the grief of Good Friday to the joy of Easter Sunday, music helps worshippers navigate the emotional journey of Holy Week.
“Music is awesome. Music is a universal language. Music has a way of speaking to us and stirring up our spirit. That is why music is so important for Holy Week,” said Charles Owens II, associate pastor of worship at Shiloh Baptist Church in Somerville.
Century after century, songwriters have tried to capture the emotion of Holy Week.
In 1707, Isaac Watts wrote “Alas and Did My Savior Bleed.” In the late 1800s, Fanny Crosby, responsible for more than 8,000 hymns, penned the lines, “Draw me nearer, nearer blessed Lord, to the cross where thou hast died.” In 1899, “Were You There?,” an African-American spiritual believed to be composed by enslaved Blacks, was first printed. In 1968, the Edwin Hawkin Singers lent their soulful voices to “Oh Happy Day.” And in 2015, North Point Community Church’s InsideOut musical team in Alpharetta, Georgia, performed “Death was Arrested” — one of Owens’ favorite Holy Week songs.
“I love that song,” Owens said of the tune that includes the lyrics “Your love made a way to let mercy come in. When death was arrested and my life began.”
“Years ago, we put together a kids’ drama that had no words. The kids acted out the Easter story with music. One of the songs they used was this one. It was a very powerful moment in the production.”
Throughout Holy Week, music illustrates the Easter story, from the betrayal of Jesus to the walk to the cross to the resurrection. Staple hymns evoking the emotional journey include “All Glory, Laud and Honor” for Palm Sunday, “Are You Washed in the Blood,” “Go to Dark, Gethsemane” and “The Old Rugged Cross” for Good Friday and “He Arose,” “Glorious Day” and “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” for Easter Sunday.
“Music is able to portray a picture of the suffering that Jesus made for us in a way that sometimes words can’t. The songs provide a beautiful picture of Jesus’ sacrifice and then of his victory and resurrection,” said Cheyenne Sanchez, a member of Calvary Assembly’s worship team and the nationally-known signing group Maverick City Choir.
Among Sanchez’s favorite Easter hymns is “Forever” by Kari Jobe. The song, which includes the lyrics, “The moon and stars, they wept. The morning sun was dead. The savior of the world was fallen. His body on the cross. His blood poured out for us. … The ground began to shake. The stone was rolled away. His perfect love would not be overcome,” tells the Easter story, from the crucifixion to the resurrection.
In a video posted on Jobe’s YouTube channel, Jobe, who wrote the song with Brian Johnson, said, “We talked about a theme. The thing we kept saying was ‘forever,’ just talking about how forever Jesus will be lifted high and worshipped and glorified. And that his story of coming to Earth to die for our sins, we wanted to paint a picture of that.”
Another song that connects with Owens is “I Will Rise” by Chris Tomlin with the lyrics, “There’s a peace I’ve come to know though my heart and flesh may fail, there’s an anchor for my soul, I can say, ‘It is well.’ Jesus has overcome and the grave is overwhelmed, the victory is won, he is risen from the dead. And I will rise when he calls my name, no more sorrow, no more pain. I will rise on eagles’ wings, before my God fall on my knees.”
“This song paints a picture of how we will rise one day to be with Christ because of the sacrifice Jesus made. It is a hopeful song,” Owens said. “Music can bring out sadness. Music can bring out happiness. Music has a way of resonating with all of the emotions we experience during Holy Week.”