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.
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.