Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Preparing for Easter: Week 4

This Week's Hymns

This week's special feature (thanks to Ace Collins' Stories Behind the Traditions and Songs of Easter) is the custom of dressing up for Easter and the tradition of the Easter parade.

Easter 1994
I remember when we were little we always wore special dresses, hats, lacy socks, and sometimes gloves for Easter. If you glance in any stores these days, you’ll see dozens of adorable outfits for children to wear for Easter. But the custom of dressing up for Easter has its roots in several historical reasons:

  • Easter coincides with the feast of Passover, which was traditionally a time when Jews would wear their finest clothing. Since Christians combined the celebration, it makes sense that the dressing up would carry over.
  • In pagan cultures, spring was welcomed with lavish celebrations, and the people would wear new clothes as a symbol for the new life the season brought. When missionaries converted the pagan spring festivals into Easter, the new Christians continued to wear new clothes for the festivities.
  • Baptisms and weddings were often performed on Easter Sunday in ancient Europe. Of course the babies being baptized and the couples getting married would wear their finest clothing, along with the honored guests at these important events.
  • In the Dark Ages, commoners felt it necessary to dress up if they were ever invited to have an audience with their lord the king. This sentiment was transferred to church on Sundays, where the people knew they could meet with the “King of kings and Lord of lords.”

The Easter parade grew out of the tradition of dressing up for Easter. Showing off the fine new clothes eventually became somewhat of a competition, but it began with noble reasons: 

  • Like the passion plays, the Easter parade actually began in the Dark Ages. Church members would meet in a designated spot (often a graveyard) before church and then walk there together. The parades would begin solemnly, allowing the Christians to reflect on what Easter meant. By the end, however, they were joyful celebrations!
  • Parade participants wore their finest clothes, often brightly colored. This was special for the people of the time, who usually did not dress up so much.
  • The parade had two purposes: (1) to help the Christian think about the true meaning of Easter, and (2) to show non-church-members how much they were missing. So this became a missionary tool too as the church walked visibly through the community. Sometimes priests would place Easter paintings and statues to arouse interest in the community.
  • Mardi Gras parades of today actually have their root in the Easter parades of the Middle Ages, when the joy of the resurrection was so clearly expressed by Christians.

Wednesday, March 6: 

In order to more fully appreciate this hymn, please listen to the music as the words are sung to it. I had never heard the tune before, but the joyful melody complements these words perfectly. The last line of the refrain coupled with the music, especially, brings Christ’s being “arisen” to life! 

Thursday, March 7: 

Yes, this is the same John Newton who wrote Amazing Grace. This is a heartbreaking hymn that reminds us of our desperate sinfulness and need of a loving Savior. It reminds us of God’s incredible mercy and love for us and brings Romans 5:8 alive for me: “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us!” I'm moved by the description of Jesus' forgiveness, not only of those who were crucifying Him, but also of all those He was dying for, including you and me. Every time we refuse to love, follow, and obey Him, it's like we are crucifying Him again. I'm amazed at how amazing the Lord's love and grace is - to love me, pray for me, and even die for me before I even thought of Him.

Friday, March 8: 

What a clear picture of the doctrine of justification! The words paint a beautiful picture of what resulted when “God for a guilty world hath died” and what happens when we place our trust in Jesus alone for salvation – “the veil is rent,” “all mankind may enter in” to heaven, and all of Jesus’ righteousness is counted as my own. Here is the tune that goes with these words.

Saturday, March 9: 

The call comes clearly in juxtaposition with descriptions of Jesus’ suffering on our behalf – “What will you do with Jesus?” because “neutral you cannot be.” Will we be false or faithful to Him? Will we hide from Him or choose to serve Him, no matter what? Will we deny and mock Him, or will we give Him our hearts and follow Him? As the end of the refrain reminds us, “Some day your heart will be asking, ‘What will He do with me?’”

Sunday, March 10: 

When I hear the words of this hymn, I identify with the women who came on resurrection morning to visit the tomb. I especially love the second stanza, when the “mourning saints” are told that “He is not here”! This hymn also contains some deep Scriptural truths, like something from Hebrews 7: “Once by the law your hopes were slain, but now in Christ ye live again.” Take time to read the last two lines in each stanza; they are diametrically opposite, drawing our attention to the truth at the end: that Jesus is truly alive!

This song is on a CD I have of a band that came to visit Bryan College - they're called Bifrost Arts, and I love the way they did this song! I had never heard it until they sang it to us, but this is now one of my favorites. Also, check out this video about their thoughts and conference about worship!

Monday, March 11: 

The great hymnwriter Philip Bliss wrote this shortly before he died, and God used it to bring about many conversions. Read more about some stories behind this hymn on Net Hymnal

Here is a beautiful rendition of this song. 

Like many hymns and the poetry in Scriptures, this uses opposite ideas to make points: “Guilty, vile, and helpless we; spotless Lamb of God was He,” “Lifted up was He to die… now in heav’n exalted high.” The recurring theme throughout is plain in the title: “Hallelujah! What a Savior!”

Tuesday, March 12:

Responding to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is essential when we realize all that He has done for us. This hymn exhorts us to praise our Savior and points us to the heavenly worship we will participate in for all of eternity. “Jesus triumphs!” the hymnwriter cries out, and we are encouraged to sing praises to Him. 

Knowing that singing the words sometimes brings greater meaning than just reading them, the tune for this is the same as “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah.”

Please take a look at the other hymns in this series, and remember to tune in next week for more!

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