As Easter rapidly approaches, I find myself feeling less and less equipped for what is ahead: Jesus on the Cross, bearing my sins. Even less prepared am I for the reality of the Resurrection – new life for old, us the sinners sharing in His glory. But this is the truth, and it can be a kind of misplaced pride which makes us hide from it, saying, “No, Lord, I don’t deserve it.”
Music is a wonderful way to help doubting hearts connect with knowing heads. Page CXVI have prepared another set of beautiful songs to take us through the end of the Easter season, and it’s with great pleasure that I am able to stream the first track of the album here for your enjoyment, along with a poem I have written in response to their song. Happy listening, and may God continue to prepare your hearts for this yearly reminder of His grace in Jesus.
Today is Shrove Tuesday, a day simultaneously associated with pancakes and confession of sin. It is also the day before Lent begins, with Ash Wednesday’s focus on repentance: a day of feasting before the fast begins. Today’s song, the final track from Page CXVI’s “Lent to Maundy Thursday”, is a beautiful reflection on the love and grace of God, a perfect way to prepare our hearts for the beginning of the Lent season. If you have enjoyed what you’ve heard of the album in the past week, it will be released any moment now. (Due to the vagaries of timezones, I am posting this before it hits the 4th of March in the US.) Go to the band’s website for updates on availability.
Here also is my final pre-Lent poem. I am looking forward to sharing more Lent reflections with you over the next forty days. God bless.
Shrivelled, riven, sick with sin
and grieved with griefs too deep, too dim -
I crawl, I climb, I cannot climb;
I call, my God, I call.
I love the Lord; He hears my cry
and drags me, dumb, out from the tomb;
my soul, my soul, destined for death -
He lifts, my soul, He gives...
Sunken, shriven, sick within
and barely breath left to breathe in -
my God, my God: I cry, You cry,
and save my soul from sin.
The moment in the Easter narrative that always captures my attention most powerfully is the story of Palm Sunday, of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, hailed as king yet his death from that moment assured. This is the theme of today’s Page CXVI song, the beautiful “This Blessed Day”, accompanied by my new poem for the day. May both help us draw nearer to our servant king this Lent.
Sunday Before Lent
Sons of men:
the king is here; he calls,
he calls your crowns and songs –
behold him come; he rides,
he rides adorned in humble praise –
Prepare the way:
lay your crowns, lay your palms,
lay your souls, your soles, your steps toward him –
Behold his crown:
adorned with thorns. Behold his brow,
adorned with shame. Behold him ride –
the king who rides, who writhes, who prays
forgiveness in His name.
When I was younger, comfortable in low-evangelical churches where Lent was not observed, the season and its observances always seemed a semi-Catholic imposition. Our school chaplain would wear purple and people gave up eating sugar. That was mostly all I knew about it.
When I came slowly to understand its value, it came with the recognition that you gave up in order to take up. You ate less sugar and prayed more; you gave up time-consuming activities to study the Bible. It was not a matter of fasting for fasting’s sake. It was a matter of fasting from that which was not helpful to feast on that which was.
This is the theme of today’s song from Page CXVI‘s forthcoming “Lent to Maundy Thursday” – a magnificently beautiful song which takes as its theme the kind of sentiment expressed in this meditation by American pastor and writer William Arthur Ward. I hope that this song and my accompanying poem can help you think through what ways you might draw closer to God this Lent and how we can better feast upon Him.
Saturday Before Lent
the world’s asleep with sirens and
the truth is whispering through the sleepy day.
sweet doom abounds in sinking ground
and quicksand-dreams’ oblivion draws you.
your hands are slippery and the night
will try and try to snatch day from your grasp.
false comforts and discomforts come
to seize the fallow mind. Pray; stay awake.
the bridegroom’s near; He gives us food
for every need. So find your fill in Him.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord? None of us today can answer “yes”. Yet the truth and power of that moment is never diminished, how much time stretches between us and it.
Today’s track from Page CXVI’s “Lent to Maundy Thursday” combines two old hymns: “Were You There?” and “O The Deep, Deep Love of Jesus”. May it help us keep preparing our hearts for the truth of Easter.
Friday Before Lent
I was not there;
my heart cannot prepare
for sights like these:
the way Love trembles on its throne,
and mercy sweats blood.
I was not there,
and in my absence there is guilt:
the nonchalance of one who sits
a safer distance from the fright;
yet Love knows I would have been
as blood-thirsty as the rest.
I was not there,
yet Love draws further
than the bounds of space and time,
into my desperate present where
the love of Jesus lives.
I was not there;
my soul cannot prepare
itself for what it finds:
mercy thick with knowledge, rich
in wisdom before time, grounded, deep
into each present cry.
Well, as Lent approaches, so does the release of Page CXVI’s “Lent to Maundy Thursday”, and so it is with great excitement that I am posting the second track of the album, one of my favourite hymns: “Before the throne of God above”. When we could use this season before Easter as a time to make sure we are right before God – and this is certainly a good thing to do – the best thing we can remember is that God has made us right with Him, and so we can approach Him confident of this, whatever our state right now.
Thursday Before Lent
Should we wait, uncertain, at
the place where glory sits,
hesitant to see His face,
hesitant to hope?
Should we kneel or should we hide?
Should we walk at all
before the throne, before the face
of holiness and light?
Can we dare to face the truth
that who we are is known?
Can we plead? What is our plea,
the ground on which we stand?
Enter, confident, for this
Most Holy Place is now
opened up; the throne calls you
to bring your tears and crowns.
What is the first note of Lent? Ash Wednesday – this year on March 5th, next Wednesday in fact, will in most churches sound a low and melancholy tone, pregnant with penitence and reflection. But contemporary hymnsters, Page CXVI, begin their “Lent to Maundy Thursday” with jubilation: Charles Wesley’s classic “And can it be that I should gain”, a reminder to all for whom the forthcoming season of Lent is a time of repentance and reflection, that Christ’s is our one sufficient sacrifice.
For the next week at The Consolations of Writing, we will be streaming an advanced preview of the next instalment in Page CXVI’s sequence of songs working through the church year. The album will be released on Tuesday 4th March. You can find out more about the album and related projects through the band’s blog here. Be sure to buy your own copy of the album when it’s released.
As an extra feature for these seven days, I will also be releasing a number of pre-Lent poems: a chance to think about who Jesus is and how He changes lives. Here is the first, to accompany the first song from “Lent to Maundy Thursday”. Happy listening.
Wednesday Before Lent
The Cross breaks expectations. Mine I bring
limply, tacitly, proudly – as though I
can change time and history to my ends.
And yet You, ever surprising,
rebuke and restore in seamless, swift
defiant fulfilment of law within Your flesh.
And can it be? Your eyes, staring deep
into souls' past and posterity, rich
with wisdom’s grace, know full well it can.