The defiance of a slave song may rest on a foundation of hope, but never without the lower frequencies of sorrow and loss. “For there our captors asked us for a song, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” (Ps. 137:3). Imagine the pain of compulsory happiness, a broad grin and a pleasing tune plucked for the amusement of a sardonic enemy. After Jesus was hung on the cross, soldiers ripped a cloth from his body, divided it among themselves, leaving him naked and shamed, and then, as Matthew alone tells, “they sat down there and kept watch over him” (Matt. 27:36). They were perhaps at ease, hearing the groans of a dying man as if it were a song of Zion.
And yet the children of the most high God and the Son of Eternity would sing a true and new song, the undying protest of hope. “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; … then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another” (Job 19:25-27). God will save and Zion will sing a freedom song.
God speaks through the prophet, repeating: “Take courage … take courage … take courage … I am with you” (Hag. 2:4). God claims the old promise is new again: “I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt” (Hag. 2:4-5). God will shake the nations, loosening their treasure until it rolls toward the holy city. Of the new temple, God says: “The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former” (Haggai 2:9).
The temple shines, the Church glimmers, the people flow toward one geographic center where freedom rings. Going deeper and deeper into this mystery, the calling of all people in the calling of one nation, a messianic hope for a redeemed humanity, the accumulation of treasure and splendor into one single point: all this contracts to an invisible center, being itself and the cause of being, Christ Jesus our Lord.
In Christ a great song is lifted up. “I will extol you, my God and king, and bless your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless you, and praise your name forever and ever” (Ps. 145:1-2). “My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord, and all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever” (Ps. 145:21). “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises” (Ps. 98:4). Pull out lyre and trumpets and horns; hear the roaring of the seas and the singing of sea creatures; the waters clap their hands and the hills sing out. And of this song there will be no end.
For those whom Christ calls “cannot die anymore” (Luke 20:36). Mortality equals death for all, but God “is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive” (Luke 20:38). The new life in Christ is a new song, a new praise, freedom’s jubilations, a voice no longer choked by the abuse of a slave master.
I know that my redeemer lives, and I know that my song is long and free.
Look It Up: Read Ps. 98. A new song is a marvelous thing.
Think About It: Sit down by the river, but don’t weep. These are not the waters of Babylon. I am with you; I am listening; I am the deep-down voice of being.