Music Mondays are a weekly reflection on a different Christian album and artist written and shared by community members of UCM at UBC. Most modern day Christians get the brunt of their theology from music these days, so we're digging into these songs to let you know what's going on and why. For weekly updates, go check out our social media (@ucmatubc on IG and UCM at UBC on fb).
Hey all, our album for this week comes from Bifrost Arts, an ecumenical music organization working out of Virginia.
The arrangements are simple, with a focus on raw, choral vocal pieces. The lyrics reflect the title of the album: Lamentations, songs that reflect the broken and restless hearts of God’s people living in hope. Bifrost’s mission here is to re-awaken the church to the practice of biblical lament. Lament is basically verbal mourning—sorrow and brokenness put to words and song by a person or people. Biblical lament is the outcry of God’s people to God himself, and is chiefly distinguished from regular lament by the presence of hope. Biblical lament is to mourn hopefully. I hope that this album will speak to the present moment.
Listen to the full album here: https://open.spotify.com/album/0S1d9NMlxp1khYDcjkfe2v?si=wVL-RC_ORmCSNn78ZkaAgA
Hit the "read more" button to open the whole post! ------->
1. How Long?
A crowd of voices fill the space left by a singular guitar as this track opens. The voices sing in the spirit of Psalm 13, beginning each line of the verse with “How long”, and answer in the chorus in the spirit of Revelations 21-22, where tears are wiped away, sorrows are no more, and we enter into our eternal home. Something to keep in mind when one listens to and meditates on music is the orientation of the song; in this instance, the orientation of the song is from God’s people to God himself, asking and wondering how long He will wait to fulfill our hope, and then answering that question with a vision of hope fulfilled. We don’t know why God waits. We don’t know why he doesn’t come again and bring his kingdom in its fullness. He doesn’t tell us why. But he does give us a vision of that kingdom, a hope to latch on to. And he grounds that hope in his own faithfulness, accounted throughout scripture and manifest in the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.
2. Rise Up
In contrast to the song before, a solitary voice sings out, accompanied by piano and bass, calling God to rise up, to defend the weak and powerless, to bring his justice. It’s the cry of Psalm 82, “Rise up, O God, judge the earth; / for all nations belong to you!” (8). Verse one sings of the stranger, the refugee, the oppressed, while the second sings of weeping mothers, abused children, and blind watchmen. The Lord is not so blind and yet the singer feels compelled to call him to action, singing the Lord’s prayer in verse three so as to remind God of his promises. How does our broken world reflect God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven? Where is the daily bread for all? Where is the deliverance from evil? This is a song of beseeching, of looking at the broken world around us to the Word of God in our hands, and then turning towards God and calling for him to act. Something forgotten about the church is that one of the church’s primary functions is to pray on behalf of the world. So join me in praying—in interceding, beseeching on behalf of this broken world—that God would rise up.
3. O God, Will You Restore Us?
This song feels like a liturgy (as all worship music is, really) as the lead singer with her woodwinds leads the chorus and strings, the only constant her voice and a deep bass beneath. The leader sings to the congregation and they reply in turn unto the Lord, asking him to grant them salvation.
The song brings God’s redemptive purpose in close contact with His concern for the poor. The scriptures, in particular the prophets draw these two themes together, understanding God’s salvation ultimately in terms of mercy towards the poor, and restoration for the widow and orphan. In fact, the whole second verse is an extended quotation from Isaiah 58:6, “Is not this the fast that I choose: / to loose the bonds of injustice, / to undo the thongs of the yoke, / to let the oppressed go free, / and to break every yoke?” Isaiah 58 is an indictment of the people of Israel for complaining that God does not answer them when they are fasting and humbling themselves. God points out that they only do these things for selfish reasons. He calls their fast one of humility (we might read, ‘false’ humility), and then instructs them to perform another fast, described from 6-14, one which centres on the relief of the poor and oppressed.
I would encourage you to read this chapter in Isaiah and to consider your own worship and faith life in light of it. Truly, faith without works is dead (James 2:26), and as Luke tells us, Jesus ministry is initiated when he reads from the prophet Isaiah that “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, / because he has anointed me / to bring good news to the poor. / He has sent me to proclaim / release to the captives / and recovery of sight to the blind, / to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” (Luke 4:18, quoting Isaiah 61:1). As in all things, it's good for our faith to be a balanced one, so it’s good to be honest with ourselves about where we may be leaving the part of the gospel concerned with justice and the oppressed out of our worship and our faith life.
4. Our Song in The Night
The third verse makes it clear that this is the song of the people of Israel being led from slavery to freedom. In fact, the reference is to all of Psalm 77. The first two verses are questioning, almost as if they are sung on the passover night, when Egypt was silent and the Israelites are preparing to leave. The third verse sings of the journey across the red sea, speaking of God’s faithfulness to redeem his people. Christian’s often speak of “the dark night of the soul”. This is supposed to be some night where one is at their darkest, where they feel farthest from God. The first two verses seem to fit that, but perhaps the chorus presents the answer to those dark nights:
O God, be our song in the night
when the light is gone
God, be our hope
Be our strength,
Be our sheltering place
Our song in the night
I’ve had a lot of dark nights, in fact, for a long time going to sleep filled me with anxiety. Mild insomnia terrorized me for a few years during high school and even after that went away I still had trouble sleeping peacefully. Pair that with a conscience that would accuse me late into the night and you’ve got my sleep from 2013-2015ish. This song makes me wonder how that time might have been different if I had turned to God as my song in the night, as my refuge, as my comfort.
5. Wisdom and Grace
The album begins to change direction a bit here, moving away from songs concerned explicitly with justice and the oppressed and moving towards biblical reflection on life as God’s people. This song is based on Psalm 90, titled in my bible “God’s eternity and human frailty”. How small and frail are the days of humanity compared to God’s; “The days of our life are seventy years, / or perhaps eighty, if we are strong; / even then their span is only / toil and trouble; / they are soon home, and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10). Compared to his infinite grandeur and might, our works are tiny. So this song prays for wisdom and grace that we might pursue him and labour well—surely a good thing to pray!
6. Break Us
It’s common in old biographies of famous preachers or pastors or missionaries for them to speak of having been overwhelmed or overcome by the grace of God. There’s sometimes a moment where God’s grace is so overwhelming that the recipient is left in tears, broken and left with only one path: to surrender to God. This song sees the sorrow of the world, of our toil here now, and calls for an experience of God’s grace here and now. The third verse answers with a vision of that Grace: the redemptive work of God on the last day:
When my flesh, it shall fail, and my work here is done,
And the heavens and earth are remade,
Though I sowed here in sorrow
It will be glorious tomorrow
He'll remake it by the power of His grace!
God’s grace seeks to take our sorrow and turn it into laughter, even if that joy must be prolonged until eternity comes. God’s grace is redemptive, and that redemption occurs in the eschaton, where there will be no tears and it will be clear how God worked good out of what seemed evil.
7. Can the Dead Rise Up in Praise?
This song is based on Psalm 88, a very complicated psalm. In it, Heman the Ezrahite sings as if he had been left in Sheol, hell, by God. He sings from a place of utter despondency, crying out to God. In fact, the psalm seems to be utterly hopeless: unlike most other psalms of mourning or lament, there is no affirmation of God’s goodness or faithfulness at the end, instead the psalmist asks why he has been cast off by God. The song mirrors this, as no affirmations are made—there seems to be no upturn, no eucatastrophe.
8. Come Light
The mention of light in this song draws my mind to John 1:5: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” While the mention of bread at the end of the second verse makes me think of John 6:35 (fresh in many of our minds): the bread of life. Clearly this song is calling for the coming of Christ. And so this song seems to answer the song before—Track 7 seems to be hopeless, like the psalm it is based on. But we know this side of the cross that it is answered by the God who himself suffered, who died for us and with us. I love the turn in the last verse, as the singer calls for “Home perpetual” to come into the midst of this pilgrim journey. Ours is a pilgrim journey, alien residents in this land, fatefully awaiting our homecoming. And yet our perpetual home is here among us now: Christ dwells where two or more of us are gathered, and his Spirit dwells within each of us—We now only wait to be united with him fully.
9. In Labour All Creation Groans
In Genesis 3:17-9, God curses the labour of our hands, making them a toil, and in Romans 8:19-23 speaks of all creation groaning, awaiting redemption. This song sings of the labour of our hands in working among our fellow humanity. Each mention of the hardships of this world is tied with a vision of eternity, living under the peace of Christ. Human hearts believe as they ought, every race, tribe, and tongue singing together to Him, women walking at night with no fear, enemies reconciled unto one another. Christ is our peace, the means of our peace, the bringer of our peace. So would Christ bring his peace soon, our broken world needs it.
10. Lesser Loves
This song sings of our settling for “lesser loves”—all loves being insignificant in comparison to the love of God expressed in Christ. This song amounts to a prayer of thankfulness, for all that he has done, and all he will do. But I can’t help think, in light of all that this album has sung before, that this is a call for us to expressions of (admittedly) lesser love: As they sing of prisoners, enemies, orphans, strangers, I can’t help but notice that these are people that we are called to show love to. While our love is in itself only a lesser form of God’s love, we still get to participate in it. Often, God uses us as a means of showing this love to others.
So today, I would ask you to consider what love you can show to others, to the prisoner, the enemy, the orphan, the stranger. We seem to be surrounded on all sides by craziness in these days. Our world is turning upside down and changing faster than it has in a long time. If we’re being honest, we could be living through some of the most important events of our lifetimes. This is a hard time to exist. It’s my hope and prayer that this album would be a comfort to you in this time. If you are mourning, lamenting, there are songs here that can speak to that. If you are hoping, there are songs for that too. But I want to push you to love people, to be Jesus’ hands and feet to someone today. Maybe reach out to someone who you know is feeling scared or lonely, offer to pray for them. Or pick up food for a friend who’s stuck at home.
God has shown us the greatest love, making our lesser loves seem insignificant. And the loves that we turn to for our satisfaction are! But sometimes he uses our small expressions of love as the means for an encounter with his great, beautiful love.
Jameson is one of the staff members a UCM at UBC. He's currently studying at Regent College in Vancouver. Check out his full bio here.