THE EASTER HYMN
So, I grew up in church. We went to Highland Church of God in Kennewick, Washington – every time the door was open. Dad sang in , and directed the choir. Mom was the Church Secretary and sometimes the Chair of the Women’s Missionary Society. We had worship on Sunday Mornings, Sunday Evenings, and Wednesday evenings (followed by choir practice). It was, as they say, “formative in my construct”.
Yes, I enjoyed the Bible Study, the good preaching, and the incredible (what we say in “Christianese”) “fellowship”. But at the top of my list of “things I love about church and worship” and what kept me going even when I didn’t want to, was…music. I loved the music, and I grew up in a VERY musical church. We sang, at least 500 hymns each Sunday (so it seemed), each Sunday night, and each Wednesday evening. The personnel of our choir, our Junior Choir, our Youth Band, and instrumentalists made up almost 60% of the entire congregation.
Music was, for me at least, the language of God.
However, as a young child, I sometimes found the “theology-filled” lyrical phrases nonsensical – in my small mind – and so I would adapt them to what I thought they said, – and what would fit with my personal rudimentary theology.
Case in point: “With our jellied toast proclaim, Christ is born in Bethlehem!”
You know that familiar phrase from “HARK! THE HERALD ANGELS (“Harold’s Angels” as opposed to “Michael’s Angels”, I suppose) SING!” Now, ask anyone who knows me well and they will say that one of my favorite, and almost daily, foods (other than God’s most perfect creation: bacon) is toast. I’ve loved toast since before I could speak. I can’t imagine a more perfect food for angels than toast with jelly! And when would they be most likely to celebrate with toast and jelly? CHRISTMAS! It all made sense to me.
Another case in point: “Bringing in the cheese”.
It was YEARS before I knew what a “sheave” was (even though I lived in farming country), and still wasn’t sure what that had to do with the song. But “cheese”?! Well, yeah! It’s another favorite food…and I find it TOTALLY understandable why someone would “come rejoicing, bringing in the cheese”…who wouldn’t?!
The mistaken lyric that made my mother laugh so hard she choked on her coffee, however, was “Up from the gravy, a rose” which I recall fondly each Easter. Now think about this doctrinal picture: out of a gooey mess, something beautiful. That’s what Easter is all about isn’t it? Never mind WHY there would be a rose in a bowl of gravy, just go with it. So, that’s what I thought I heard, and definitely what I sang. And in my six-year-old theology it made perfect sense…
…until I knew better.
Aside from the obvious “food allusions” in each of these mistaken lyrics (my counselor is helping me through that obvious Freudian debacle) there is a lesson here about God growing as we grow.
People, and sometimes especially those who identify as “Christians”, don’t ever want to admit that sometimes they learned and believed something that was wrong. They, and we, find it difficult to admit to ourselves and others, that we have learned something new, grown, and our minds have changed. There are simply too many folks who stop learning and cling to what they first understood…even when it doesn’t make sense with everything else God says.
Were those hymn lyrics EVER “with our jellied toast proclaim”? No, they never were – the lyrics never changed. Did I, as a small child, misunderstand the “intent” of the lyric? No, I understood completely that the angels were happy and proclaiming the birth of Jesus…but as I grew, my understanding grew, and in my eyes and mind the lyrics grew as well.
God, our Father, started with a group of slaves from Egypt who knew, vaguely, of Yahweh – but not in a mature way. He proposed a covenant with them (“I will be your God. You will be My people), containing ten precepts. They are simple, they are rudimentary, and they are the type of rules one would give a small child. (Example: “Don’t cross the busy street without holding my hand.”) But as generations grew, failed, grew, failed, and grew again – up to this very generation – the understanding of God/Yahweh and ourselves has become more precise, more detailed, deeper, and more subtle. As the Apostle Paul would say, “we are going from MILK to MEAT”. Did God change? Does God change? No. But WE did. And we will.
When an individual makes the choice to BELIEVE that God indeed exists, that Jesus is His Son, and that He is present to love, protect, and preserve (“sozo” = “preserve/restore”, sometimes translated at “save”) us….and then chooses to FOLLOW that Good Shepherd and King, relinquishing all personal rights in allegiance to Him…then that person starts to grow (hopefully). As that person grows, they will begin to see God differently, more fully. They will, inevitably, discover their preconceived ideas of who HE is and who THEY are may be wrong.
And now they have another choice: Do I let my PRIDE rule, or do I let my KING rule?
Unfortunately, too many denominations, theologies, and people have let their pride rule – using the excuse: “God doesn’t change.” And they are correct, HE doesn’t, but WE do. His words are constant, though He will sometimes speak to us as a child, and sometimes not try to explain things that are beyond our understanding. Other times He will bring us close and reveal His quietest thoughts…and THOSE conversations are different than the conversations with a child…because of OUR understanding, not HIS.
I have realized that I need to learn something new every day, to grow my mind and to temper my ego. When those lessons come into conflict with what I BELIEVED was true, then I should change, and I should admit that my understanding THEN was faulty.
Maya Anjelou’s words echo the scripture, because ALL truth comes from God, and HE chooses who will speak it…and THIS is truth: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
“Up from the gravy, a rose.” might be a very picturesque way of describing the core of Easter Life Lessons – but it is inaccurate, next to the actual lyric. Once I discovered that, leaving my misinterpreted lyric behind was bittersweet. But as a child of the King, I have a responsibility to “do better” when I “know better” – and I also have the responsibility to carry the flashlight of all Truth (“alethea”) in all places, at all times.
My personal prayer is: To always admit when I have learned better, and to apologize if I have stated or taught something contrary to the more accurate Truth.
We are not the Hebrew slaves of thousands of years ago, just being introduced to Yahweh. We have the benefit of years, scripture, and the Holy Spirit. Let’s not “stay in the grave” but continue to move forward, to learn, to change, and to humbly grow along the journey from lowland to highland, as we follow the Good Shepherd.
When I was a child, I spoke like a child,
I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.
When I became a man, I put aside childish things.
For now we see indistinctly, as in a mirror,
but then face to face.
Now I know in part, but then I will know fully,
as I am fully known.
PAUL, to the Church in Corinth – and to us.
I CORINTHIANS 13:11-12