Redemption Songs

Jars of Clay - Redemption Songs
I’m listening the the new Jars of Clay CD, Redemption Songs, released earlier this week. I really like what I hear and this CD will probably spend a good bit of time in my player. The bands answer to the worship album trend borrows heavily from a rich tradition. No one can accuse them of presenting a happy clappy white washed front with this collection of soulful mixes. The CD opens with the 1912 Psalter interpretation of Psalm 51.

God, be merciful to me,
On Thy grace I rest my plea;
Plenteous in compassion Thou,
Blot out my transgressions now;
Wash me, make me pure within,
Cleanse, O cleanse me from my sin.

My transgressions I confess,
Grief and guilt my soul oppress;
I have sinned against Thy grace
And provoked Thee to Thy face;
I confess Thy judgment just,
Speechless, I Thy mercy trust.

I am evil, born in sin;
Thou desirest truth within.
Thou alone my Savior art,
Teach Thy wisdom to my heart;
Make me pure, Thy grace bestow,
Wash me whiter than the snow.

Gracious God, my heart renew,
Make my spirit right and true;
Cast me not away from Thee,
Let Thy Spirit dwell in me;
Thy salvation’s joy impart,
Steadfast make my willing heart.

Broken, humbled to the dust
By Thy wrath and judgment just,
Let my contrite heart rejoice
And in gladness hear Thy voice;
From my sins O hide Thy face,
Blot them out in boundless grace.

The rest of the track list keeps pace with the high expectations the first song invoked. Let me mention a few of my favorites. It may just be me, but I can’t help but hear echoes of U2’s “Beautiful Day” in their version of John Wesley’s “God will lift up your head.” You may be predestined to crank up the volume on that one. You will not want to turn the volume back down for the next track. Their enlistment of Sarah Kelly’s strong vocals brings the old spiritual “I’ll Fly Away” to new heights. I can’t put my finger on it, but there is something cool about bringing familiar voices in for collaboration. I almost expected to hear Larry Norman join in their remake of “It Is Well With My Soul.” The Blind Boys of Alabama provide flavor to “Nothing but the Blood.” (If you do not have their Christmas CD, Go Tell It on the Mountain, in your collection, get it.)

The seventh tract borrows from a 19th century hymn I do not think I’d ever heard before:

O come and mourn with me awhile;
And tarry here the cross beside;
O come, together let us mourn;
Jesus, our Lord, is crucified.

With those lyrics, especially today on Good Friday, I can’t help but think of the excellent article in last month’s Modern Reformation, “Singing The Blues with Jesus.” Michael Horton writes:

We aren’t morbid when we take sin, suffering, and death seriously as Christians. Rather, we can face these tough realities head-on because we know that they have been decisively confronted by our captain. They have not lost their power to harm, but they have lost their power to destroy us. This biblical piety is not morbid because it doesn’t end at the cross, but it also doesn’t avoid it. It goes through the cross to the Resurrection. This is why the Christian gospel alone is capable of refuting both denial and despair. The hope of the gospel gives us the freedom to expose the wound of our human condition because it provides the cure.

Horton concludes:

Death is still an enemy, not a friend, but it is “the last enemy,” and it is already defeated so that now death is not God’s judgment upon us for our sin but the temporal effects of our participation in Adam’s guilt. And because the guilt and judgment are removed, we can both cry out with our Lord in troubled anger at death and yet also sing with the Apostle, “Where O death is your sting? Where O hell is your victory?” (1 Cor. 15:54–55). What we need again is a church that can sing the blue note in a way that faces the real world honestly and truthfully, recognizing the tragic aspect of life as even more tragic than any nihilist could imagine, while knowing that the one who raised Lazarus is now raised to the right hand of his Father, until all enemies—including death, lie in the rubble beneath his feet.

While the latest offering from Jars of Clay doesn’t technically fit into the blues genre, the range of emotions resonate with Horton’s wise council and the biblical Psalmest. Here them sing,

When sins and fears prevailing rise
And fainting hope almost expires
Jesus to Thee I lift my eyes
To Thee I breathe my soul’s desires

Are You not mine, my living Lord
And can my hope, my comfort die
Fixed on the everlasting word
That word which built the earth and sky

Here let my faith unshaken dwell
Immovable the promise stands
Not all the powers of earth or hell
Can e’er dissolve the sacred bands
Jesus to Thee I lift my eyes

Here oh my soul
Thy trust repose
If Jesus is forever mine

Jesus, I lift my eyes
To Thee I breathe my soul’s desires
Jesus, I lift my eyes
To Thee I lift my eyes

Not death itself that last of foes
Can break a union so.

1 Comment

Hi Don—coincidentally, I blogged about “Redemption Songs” just the day before you did! I haven’t listened to the entire album, and was interested in reading your review. Also, trivia note: Sarah Kelly is from Rockford, IL, where I happen to live, and she is a great friend of the radio station where I work. What a lovely and dedicated young lady!