If you follow me on social media, you know that I am a big U2 fan, and have been for years. Bono, the lead singer of Irish rock group U2, once wrote an introduction to a special edition of the Book of Psalms in which he suggested that David was the original bluesman:
“At age 12, I was a fan of David. He felt familiar, like a pop star could feel familiar. The words of the psalms were as poetic as they were religious, and he was a star — a dramatic character, because before David could fulfill the prophecy and become the king of Israel, he had to take quite a beating. He was forced into exile and ended up in a cave in some no-name border town facing the collapse of his ego and abandonment by God. But this is where the soap opera got interesting. This is where David was said to have composed his first psalm — a blues. That’s what a lot of the psalms feel like to me — the blues. Man shouting at God — ‘My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me?’ (Psalm 22).”
As an art form, blues music fascinates me. I don’t listen to it all the time, but it is a very particular style that is suited to certain times and moods. I happen to think that it is especially appropriate during Lent.
That’s why seven years ago, when I was pastor of the contemporary service at FUMC Rowlett, I introduced a service called “Jesus Sang the Blues” which I debuted on Palm Sunday. Two years in a row, we celebrated this special service, in which our contemporary band played the blues, and we focused on the story of Jesus’ suffering.
I’m excited about unveiling the service here at Kessler Park UMC this Sunday. The 11:00 am service will be outdoors on the east lawn. We’ve set up a stage against the building, where the Pat Boyack Band will be playing a number of blues tunes in our service, including “Peace in the Valley” and “People Get Ready,” as well as the classic hymns, “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” and “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” (Pat Boyack is the husband of our office administrator, Yvonne.)
Why the blues on Palm Sunday? For one, Palm Sunday is also known as Passion Sunday, and it is liturgically appropriate to not only observe Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, but also Jesus’ suffering leading up to the crucifixion (known as the “passion”).
If you are one of those churchgoers who only attends Sunday worship, and not the special services throughout Holy Week, you could possibly go from Palm Sunday to Easter and never hear much about the pain that Jesus experienced on his final days. That would be unfortunate, because the death of Jesus is just as important as the resurrection of Jesus. To put it another way, you can’t really understand the joy of Easter unless you have also experienced the despair and hopelessness of Good Friday and Holy Saturday.
The point of observing “Jesus Sang the Blues” on Passion Sunday is to remind ourselves of Jesus’ vulnerability during the darkest days of his life. Jesus went through the complete range of difficult emotions on that last week — betrayal, abandonment, bitterness, torture, depression, and a bleak death on a cross. While hanging on that cross, he shouted a line from Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
That cry has been heard time and time again throughout history, from the victims of wars, the survivors of natural catastrophes, the oppressed and the poor. That cry has come to full expression in the writings of the prophets, the words of the poets, and the music of those who play and sing the blues.
When we see that Jesus sang the blues, then we come to the startling realization that Jesus has completely identified himself with the human situation. Jesus was truly one of us; and not just “one of us,” but one of the least. He was condemned, humiliated, cast aside, and marginalized.
Jesus suffered, too.
Jesus cried and shouted and protested his innocence, too.
Jesus railed against God, too.
All of that is true of Jesus, just as it is often true of me and you. Holy Week is not just about the suffering of Jesus, which was hardly unique; it’s about human suffering, and the ways in which we torment ourselves and each other.
Sometimes there’s nothing left to do but sing the blues …
(If you're not into the blues or not interested in worshipping outdoors, there will also be a traditional Palm Sunday service with Holy Communion in the church sanctuary at 8:30 am.)