Friday, April 27, 2012

The Audacity of Repentance: An Exegesis of Psalm 51

Psalm 51

3 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
4 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
5 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
6 Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.
7 Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.
8 You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
9 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
10 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
11 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
12 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
13 Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.
14 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.
15 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
16 Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.
17 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
18 For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
19 The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
20 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem,
21 then you will delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar. 

The Audacity of Repentance: An Exegesis of Psalm 51
Dr. Fentress-Williams
Virginia Theological Seminary
OTS-502: Old Testament Interpretation 2
27 February 2012

Psalm 51 is an individual lament and one of several psalms of repentance, in which the speaker is not the victim of sin but its perpetrator. James L. Mays suggests that “it may have been composed for use by the congregation, and individuals as part of it, in connection with the Day of Atonement (see Lev. 16:30).”[1] Tradition connects the psalm with David’s affair with Bathsheba and Nathan’s subsequent conviction of the king’s sin (2 Sam. 11-12). In that case as well as in this, the sinner’s reaction was to cry out, “I have sinned against the LORD!” For David, the immediate result was forgiveness. Taking his cue from David, the psalmist is audacious in approaching God, firm in his belief that God can redeem him, wants to redeem him, and desires a relationship so personal that forgiveness and grace not only are certain to come, but also will exemplify God’s sovereignty and power by coming in abundance.
While the psalm begins in a place of desperation, it moves swiftly to absolute certainty that the God who acted in the lives of such fallen heroes as David will act again in the psalmist’s own life and will restore it to wholeness. Brutal honesty is the first item on the psalmist’s agenda, for he knows that this is necessary for a fresh start. A cry for mercy leads to an announcement that the psalmist has sinned against God and deserves judgment. Whatever unnamed commandment he has broken, he admits that he is guilty as charged and that God has every right to judge him severely. Nevertheless, he fully expects a merciful response from God, for this is his understanding of what God does: “as befits Your faithfulness; in keeping with Your abundant compassion” (vv. 3-4).[2] Neal H. Walls points out that this is covenant language and implies that this means God has a responsibility to forgive the penitent:
Psalm 51 shares much of its vocabulary with God’s self-revelation in Exodus 34:6-7, which describes the LORD as “merciful and gracious” (וְחַנּוּן רַחוּם), “abounding in steadfast love [חֶסֶד] and faithfulness [אֱמֶת],” and “forgiving iniquity and transgression of sin.”[3]
Furthermore, the psalmist calls out, “wash me thoroughly,” translated in the Anchor Bible as “wash me again and again.” According to Mitchell Dahood, “The psalmist seems to suggest that the number of washings should equal the number of God’s mercies.”[4] If God is as merciful as scripture and tradition teach, and if God is faithful to the covenant established with Israel, then the psalmist knows he can fully expect that mercy to become available to him.
It is commonly remarked by preachers that justice means getting what we deserve, mercy means not getting what we deserve, and grace means getting what we don’t deserve. The psalmist deserves justice and pleads for mercy, but he fully expects grace. He claims that his sin is deep enough to be inherent: “Indeed I was born with iniquity; with sin my mother conceived me” (v. 7). Even this bleak assessment, however, will not hold him back from his pleas. He implores God to do things that only God can do. How can anyone “un-sin” (תְּחַטְּאֵנִי) the sinful (v. 9)?[5] How can bones that have been crushed exult again (v. 10)? How can the sinner’s iniquities be deleted from the divine bookkeeping (v. 11)?[6] Yet God’s grace can bring righteousness out of sin and joy out of pain, and God can even change the basic mathematics of sin. He has done so before, so the psalmist expects him to do it again.
This expectation culminates in verse 12: “Fashion [create] a pure heart for me, O God; create [renew] in me a steadfast spirit.” Here the psalmist invokes the most powerful of God’s creative powers. If a heart is so corrupt that it cannot be redeemed, God can create (בְּרָא) a new one from scratch, in the same way that God created (בָּרָא) the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1)! Edwin McNeill Poteat adds, “And [the psalmist] even dares to insist that such response as his contrition evokes from God shall—much or little—be ungrudging.”[7]
Indeed, there is nothing stingy about God’s grace. Dahood interprets the finer points of Hebrew word order to translate “till I am pure” as “I’ll indeed be purer than gushing water,” and “till I am whiter than snow” as “I’ll be much whiter than snow”[8] [italics mine]. The psalmist is certain not of a sufficient outcome, but of an abundant outcome. And what of “the bones You have crushed” (v. 10)? Dahood is uneasy about this translation, as it seems to accuse God of having done wrong, either physically or spiritually, to a man who is confessing his own wrongdoing. He suggests an alternate verb, “purify,” which is one letter off from “crush,” but even Dahood admits the argument for it is weak.[9] Perhaps the shock of the suggestion that God has crushed the psalmist’s bones reveals the extremes of God’s power: God will even restore that which He Himself has destroyed—and not only restore, but bring back to the point of rejoicing!
            The psalmist does not expect to get something for nothing, what some call “cheap grace.” Indeed, that kind of transactional language is not appropriate, for just as he is certain God will redeem him no matter what, the psalmist is intent on praising God no matter what. But he cannot do so from within his state of sin: he needs God to restore him first, and now is the time for that to happen. After that, “I will teach transgressors Your ways” (v. 15), “I may sing forth your beneficence (v. 16),” “let my mouth declare your praise” (v. 17).
Verses 18 and following present and wrestle with a radical idea for postexilic Israel. The psalmist is so close to God that he even sees through the futility of the temple sacrifice system to remit sins. William R. Taylor writes:
It is consonant with his spiritual temper that [the psalmist] considers no offering of thanks for the answering of his appeal acceptable to God except that of a broken and contrite heart. Such a point of view is so revolutionary in its implications for the traditional sacrificial system that a later editor, fearful of its influence, sought to qualify it by the addition of vss. 18-19 [20-21].[10]
While there is no indication that the psalmist condemns the system of temple sacrifice, he most certainly does not deem it necessary in order for God’s grace to function. Perhaps it came as a welcome relief to Jews living in exile to imagine that one’s relationship with God might require no intermediary.
Even from a poetic perspective, Psalm 51 focuses on the personal relationship between the psalmist and God. No wider community is acknowledged, nor does such a community seem relevant to the situation until the final two verses which Taylor mentions above. Like many other psalms, this one revels in parallelism, but Psalm 51’s poetic cadence also relies on the first person object “-ni” ending for a series of imperative verbs that begin in verses 3-4: חָנֵּנִי (have mercy on me), כַּבְּסֵנִי (wash me), טַהֲרֵנִי (purify me). In verse 6 we see a shift from imperative pleas to recognition of God’s role in the situation, and when this happens, many verbs end with the
“-kha” second person singular form, creating a new cadence:
לְךָ (against you), לְבַדְּךָ (against you only), בְּדָבְרֶךָ (when you speak), בְשָׁפְטֶךָ (when you judge). Verse 9 restores the progression of imperatives: תְּחַטְּאֵנִי (purge or “un-sin” me), תְּכַבְּסֵנִי (wash me), תַּשְׁמִיעֵנִי (make me hear). In verses 13-14, the two styles alternate without a break: אַל-תַּשְׁלִיכֵנִי (cast me not away) מִלְּפָנֶיךָ (from your presence), קָדְשְׁךָ וְרוּחַ (and do not take away) מִמֶּנִּי תִּקַּח-אַל (your holy spirit from me). The two endings continue to appear throughout the remainder of the psalm. The speaker knows whom he addresses, and he expects God to act in a way that will produce abundantly positive results in his life—all for the purpose of reasserting and showing forth God’s glory.
James Mays writes, “Many of the prayers for help say, ‘Change my situation so I may praise you.’ This one says, ‘Change me; I am the problem.’”[11] Also, he notes that Psalm 51 “is not merely an expression of human remorse or preoccupation with failure and guilt; it looks beyond self to God and lays hold on the marvelous possibilities of God’s grace.”[12] The Psalmist knows that not only can God do amazing, life-restoring things, but God wants to do them and is so inclined at every available opportunity.
One year on the first Sunday in Lent, I told the members of my youth group, “Lent is a great time to work on things about yourself that need to change.” A 14-year-old boy named Adam piped up, “Or you could let God work on changing you.” I was totally called up short. I told Adam so on the spot, and I quoted him in a sermon the very next week. Adam’s comment reminded me of a simple, basic premise of our faith: God is always at work in our lives, but we get to decide how much of this work to allow. This psalmist felt the same way, and it was on that faith that he staked his ability to approach his creator with bold confidence and ask for salvation—even from within the depths of sin.

End Notes

[1] James L. Mays, Psalms (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1994), 199.
[2] The translation cited throughout this paper is the Tanakh (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1985). Consequently, I am using the verse numbering scheme that treats the superscription as verses 1-2.
[3] Neal H. Walls, “Psalm 51:1-17, Exegetical Perspective,” in Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 2 (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 13.
[4] Mitchell Dahood, S.J., The Anchor Bible: Psalms II (51-100) (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1968), 3.
[5] Ibid. See also William R. Taylor, “Psalm 51 Exegesis” in The Interpreter’s Bible Volume IV: Psalms, Proverbs (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1955), 270.
[6] Dahood, 3; his language refers specifically to v. 3.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Dahood, 5.
[9] Dahood, 7.
[10] Taylor, 267.
[11] Mays, 202.
[12] Ibid, 199.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Come Die with Us

I'm a guest writer today on my friend Michael Carroccino's blog. Michael is a middler at Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest. Although we are both from the Diocese of Olympia, we met for the first time when our families were scoping out seminaries.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Easter Sermon of John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople ca. A.D. 400

Is there anyone who is a devout lover of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!
Is there anyone who is a grateful servant?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!
If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.
To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!
First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!

You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!
Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.

He destroyed Hades when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.
Isaiah foretold this when he said,
"You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."

Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Beginning of the End of Religion

I preached this sermon at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Medina, WA, on Palm Sunday, April 5, 2009. Since I haven't had an opportunity to preach lately, I thought I'd re-post an old one.


And so it begins. It’s the beginning of the end: the end of the earthly ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. As the priest and prophet Zechariah wrote half a millennium before, the king has come to us, triumphant and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey. Zechariah told us our king would cause all war to cease, and that he would rule the entire world. This was our hope, and it had fed us for many generations. Now the time had finally come.

I was one of Jesus’ disciples. You haven’t heard of me, so don’t ask my name. I’m not one of the Big Twelve. But I was there. I saw everything that happened. And only now, after all these years, I think I’m finally beginning to understand.

Being with Jesus was a constant state of euphoria. We were never in control with him around, but we didn’t care. We knew God was in control, and that was enough. It was like being in control, but much better, because we didn’t have to bear the responsibility of it. Well, that all changed. Have you ever felt as if unnamed mystical forces are driving the action? Like it’s just a movie and we’re all watching? The final week was like that.

It all started Saturday night in Bethany, when some woman sneaked in and poured a huge amount of nard on Jesus’ feet. Judas was all over Jesus for letting that happen; the poor might take a dim view of any act that seemed wasteful. We needed everybody we could rally for the coming fight.

But then Jesus said a strange thing: he said we’d always have the poor with us. Didn’t he want this whole thing to come to a head? His casual attitude worried us. I think that’s when Judas started getting ideas that were too big for him. But the rest of us forgot about that for a while when Jesus said, “OK, gang, this is it. We’re going to Jerusalem.” This was what we were waiting for! We started sharpening our swords.

We decided not to tell Jesus we were armed to the teeth. It seemed like he might object, and we really needed him not to object. After all, it was time to launch the Big One: quite literally, the war to end all wars. How else could Jesus cause all war to cease? With the kind of charisma Jesus had, we were sure this would be quick and easy, with a minimum of casualties. So we kept our swords carefully stowed and we waited. And then we rode into town.

It was the Sunday before the Passover, so Pontius Pilate was riding into town, too. Pilate rode in at the western gate with a vast array of soldiers, a show of might to flaunt all the power of Caesar. It was like, “Don’t you Jews get any bright ideas. We’ll let you have your Passover feast, but there’s been trouble in the past. And this year, nobody’s going to challenge the authority of Rome.”

I’m sure Pilate never learned about that other procession, the one we began on the other side of the city, at the eastern gate. As soon as we arrived, the people started showing up and laying palm branches at the feet of the donkey. It was the weirdest demonstration you’ve ever seen, because there was no dissent within the ranks. No troublemakers, no conflicting agendas, no need to reach for our swords. The people adored Jesus. They were ready to make him king, and we kept waiting for the Roman soldiers to face off with us. But the soldiers were all at the other end of town! They never knew.

Now, Annas and Caiaphas and their ilk were there, of course, and they didn’t approve. They kept trying to shush the people. But there were too many of them, and Annas and Caiaphas were nothing if not experts at protecting themselves. So after a while, they just shut up and looked uncomfortable.

But for all that, Jesus’ idea backfired, didn’t it? It was a total anticlimax: we got almost to the temple, and then he got off the donkey and told a couple of the guys to take it back to its owner. It was only then that we saw any soldiers; Pilate’s big parade had just finished. Our crowd kind of shrugged and dispersed; I think they were disappointed.

The rest of us entered the temple with Jesus on foot. He walked around for a while like he was casing the joint, noticing where everything was set up in relation to everything else. By then it was already mid-afternoon, so we walked the two miles back to Bethany to stay another night with Mary and Martha and Lazarus.

Jesus didn’t say anything about the failed procession. He seemed satisfied with the result. Whatever—we were embarrassed and wanted to put it behind us. So we listened as he briefed us on Monday’s plan: we were going to go right into the heart of the temple and cause a scene. Now this was more like it! Simon said, “OK, and then we whip out our swords, right?”

Jesus’ response confused us: “Swords? Who said anything about swords? No, we’re just going to make our point and get out of there.”

We started mumbling to ourselves. Jesus sure was taking his sweet time with this revolution. He had tens of thousands of devoted followers in town for the Passover feast. If he asked them to, they’d rise up and take the city from the Romans. Then we could buckle down for the real fight! There would be a siege, of course, but if Jesus could feed 5000 people with five loaves of bread, we could handle that without a problem. Before the year was out, we’d have our country back, and our Messiah as King! Why was Jesus squandering our one opportunity? We worried that half-hearted demonstrations of humility and minor acts of vandalism might not have the intended effect.

We were right, of course. Our little stunt against the money-changers upset a lot of people, what with Jesus running around smashing things and shouting, “God is not for sale!” I think the reason they didn’t grab him then and there was that they were so shocked. But after that, we watched our backs. We knew they’d seen us with him.

It was then that I decided Judas should have been not just the treasurer, but also the PR and marketing guy. Judas had friends among the Pharisee higher-ups, and he always had the big picture in mind. Jesus needed a handler, and Judas was the best person for the job. For one thing, Judas could have converted all those rambling parables of the Kingdom of God into useful sound bites. Yes, Judas was a do-er … he couldn’t stop doing. But Jesus didn’t really want Judas to do anything. So he took his game elsewhere. And everything unraveled pretty quickly after that.

See, all this time we thought Jesus was up to one of two things. He was either going to kick out the Romans and reestablish the dominance of the Temple—that was what Simon and Judas wanted—or he was going to say “to Sheol with the temple authorities” and start his own religion. That was what I wanted. And whether or not he intended it, that’s what happened. That new religion became the dominant world power for a couple thousand years.

I don’t know if Jesus knew how all this would shake out. But I have learned a couple things since then. First, Jesus never rushed anything. He didn’t need to. He knew it was God’s plan, not his, and that God does everything at exactly the right time. Now, I believe God’s plan is still coming together. It could have happened faster, but we weren’t paying attention. And that’s OK. God is infinitely patient, and whatever plan finally unfolds will have God’s stamp of approval.

Second—and this is the important one—that day Jesus rode into town? In spite of everything that happened, I’m convinced it was the beginning of the end of religion.

That might sound confusing, so let me clarify. By “the end of religion,” I don’t mean the end of communities of faith. These are places where we can pool our resources and organize to help the poor, who are still with us. We need these groups to keep practicing what they do, because at their best, they are little pockets of the Kingdom. When the Kingdom comes, it slips in quietly, through the back gate. But it can never come into being until we’ve put away our swords.

We also need to get together to keep telling the parables—those rambling stories that can’t be reduced to sound bites. There was no way for Jesus to give us his message directly, as if God were some sort of mathematical formula to be unlocked by a finely tuned brain. So through his stories, he planted seeds in our imaginations. He left pearls, treasures for us to find … but we didn’t find them because we didn’t want to look. He mixed his yeast into the dough, but we wouldn’t let the dough rise. He invited us to go fishing, and he showed us how much sustenance we could catch if only we were hungry enough.

If we’d been paying any attention in my day, we would have seen that Jesus didn’t just tell us parables. In the end, he became one.

And so it ends at the beginning. The end of religion means the end of oppressive, arbitrary rules and the beginning of a deeper relationship. It means the end of temple sacrifice, and of any dogmatically dictated sacrifice at all. It means the end of the anemic systems we create to try to “get right with God,” like: “God, if you do this for me, I’ll never do such-and-such again.” Or arguments about who’s in and who’s out. Or even the fear of death. Jesus’ time among us was a little taste of the day when there will be no dissent or oppression, because we’ll all relax into God’s love and relax into loving each other. When we’ll really understand that God truly has given us everything we need.

Until then … until the end of the world if need be … let’s just live another day. Let’s not forget, at least not for today, that we are God’s beloved children. Let’s walk through this terrible, wonderful week with our eyes focused on the cross. Because our King understood that we must go through the cross to get to the crown. Amen.

Archive of sermons and writings

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Music for Holy Week, on Spotify

A few years ago I began creating mixes of music for specific liturgical seasons and occasions. Every year I tweak them a little, depending on what new music I've heard and what old music I've discovered. Holy Week is my favorite week of the year, and I've published on Spotify a playlist of songs for this week.

Clearly, not all these songs were intended by their writers to be about Holy Week. So here are some brief annotations of the playlist to explain why the songs are meaningful to me.

Palm Sunday

Sufjan Stevens - The Palm Sunday Tornado Hits Crystal Lake. Mood music: it's not just that it has "Palm Sunday" in the title, although that's how I stumbled upon this little instrumental in the first place. I love the sense of foreboding this piece evokes.

Isaac Everett - Preparation. From his liturgically organized album Rotation, this is the song for riding into Jerusalem ... to die.

Matisyahu - King Without a Crown. How many Hasidic Jewish reggae artists do you know? This song is just really cool, and hopefully my Jewish friends won't mind me re-appropriating Matisyahu's work as I ponder what sort of king Jesus intended (or didn't intend) to be.

Living Colour - Cult of Personality. One of the rockin'est songs 1989 had to offer, this is all about political power. The more of it you have, the harder it is to keep it pure.

Coldplay - Viva La Vida. I always think of Palm Sunday when I hear this song. "Who would ever want to be king?"


Johnny Cash - Personal Jesus. Everyone seems to want Jesus to be personal. And I think he is. But does "personal" also mean "convenient"?

Tracy Chapman - Talkin' 'Bout a Revolution. Here's a song for the Zealots among Jesus' disciples. Change is coming, and we're going to bring it! And Jesus will lead Israel to a glorious new day! We'll kick the Romans out and take back our country!

The Beatles - Revolution. This is Jesus' answer to the Zealots. What kind of revolution are you thinking of, really? Are you sure I want to be at the head of it?


Prince - Thieves in the Temple. I guess here I'm taking a metaphorical love song and turning it literal again, but we'll let that one go. The sanctity of the Jerusalem temple has been compromised.

Stone Temple Pilots - Trippin' on a Hole in a Paper Heart. Perhaps I'm taking the most liberties of all with this song, which is probably about an acid trip. But I can totally imagine Jesus tearing around the temple, knocking over tables, releasing sacrificial animals, and screaming, "God is not for sale!"


Sting - Jeremiah Blues Part 1. Nobody seems to know what time it is. Don't they see their civilization collapsing around them?

Sixpence None the Richer - Melody of You. I imagine Mary Magdalene singing this to Jesus.


Leonard Cohen - The Guests. The guests are arriving for the Passover feast, but the mood is ... off. Just a bit. No, a lot.

Isaac Everett - Valediction. A beautiful poem about wheat, grapes, life. Someday I'd like to use this in church.

Son Lux - Betray. I know you're about to betray me, Judas. But I still want to have dinner with you.

The Judybats - Being Simple. This is the first of a series of songs I imagine Judas singing. Judas can't comprehend the kind of simplicity it takes to love unconditionally. Nor can he trust that it will come to him.

Cher - Heart of Stone. Maybe it would be easier not to care at all. "With a heart of stone, you'll be well protected/ With a heart of stone, love's not resurrected."

Audioslave - Like a Stone. And a man decides to turn to stone.

U2 - Until the End of the World. Here's Jesus singing to Judas.

U2 - With or Without You. Yet Judas makes his choice. He can't live, "with or without" Jesus.

Don McLean - Vincent. We're in the garden now, and this song isn't only about Vincent Van Gogh.

Coldplay - Death and All His Friends. Jesus is tormented. He doesn't want to play this game with death, yet it's the only way to knock its weapon out of its hand.

Sixpence None the Richer - Love. "Unless a seed goes into the ground and dies, it remains a single seed."

U2 - Pride (In the Name of Love). This song isn't just about Martin Luther King, Jr.


Sufjan Stevens - For the Widows in Paradise, for the Fatherless in Ypsilanti. "I did everything for you ..."

Isaac Everett - Execution. Psalm 22, as sung from the cross.

Jesus Christ Superstar - The Crucifixion. From the musical itself.

Isaac Everett - Sermon. The tune is "What Wondrous Love Is This."

Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos - Victimae paschali laudes. The Lamb has been slain ... but that's not the end of the story.


Isaac Everett - Lamentation. The text is "Stabat mater."

Radiohead - Where I End and You Begin. Where is that, anyway? And how do we make sense of all this unbridled chaos? It's like the end of the world ... and the beginning, all rolled up into one.

Chapelle du Roi - Lamentations of Jeremiah I. Jeremiah's words apply here as well.

Sufjan Stevens - To Be Alone with You. O Lord, I'd give anything to be with you again.