Today is a special Sunday in our Christian calendar as we pause to remember all those who have passed away this year on this All Saints Sunday. Acknowledging ourselves as finite beings, recognizing the loss we feel when loved ones are no longer with us, finding ways to express our sorrow while knowing we need to continue living without our loved ones can often be painful and difficult. So perhaps it is fitting that we are looking at the genre of Blues Music as it relates to Psalms of lament in our continuing sermon series on Music and the Psalms.
I firmly believe that at some point in all our lives we will find ourselves uttering the same words that were read for us from Psalm 22 – “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Maybe we are experiencing a job loss or financial burdens, trouble with the kids or our spouses. Perhaps we are feeling the full weight of our loss of a precious loved one. Maybe we are facing our greatest fear – quicksand. That realization that life is going along, then something bad happens, then something else, and another thing, until we feeling we are sinking in quicksand. Out of a time of great hardship and trial came the birth of the genre of music known as the Blues.
The style of music called the Blues came to fruition around the end of the 19th century primarily within the African-American communities of the Deep South. This genre of music is characterized by specific chord progressions and some pretty crafty ‘bending’ of notes in relation to a standard scale. I’ve invited Alex to teach a bit about the blues scale and the call-and-response nature of blues music [Alex.]
Here is an example of one of the most prominent figures of Blues music – BB King. [Play “The Thrill is Gone.”] Similar to Jesus’ utterance of the words from Psalm 22 as he was dying on the cross, Blues musicians often sing about their great pain and anguish to which so many of us can relate. Have we not at one time or another uttered some variation of those words – something like, “Really God?” “Why me, God?” “What possible good can come out of this?”
Let’s take a look at another Psalm of lament – Psalm 10. [Read Psalm] What I find interesting about many of these lament Psalms is the twist that comes toward the end. Did you notice the twist in verse 16 – it begins with “The Lord is King forever and ever.” Even in the midst of pain and fear, there is the reminder that God is still in control. Even when everything seems to be coming apart at the seams God is that still small voice in the middle of the storm. Verse 17 says, “You Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry.” At no time does God not hear our cries. At no time does God turn a deaf ear. The Creator of the universe provides comfort during our times of hardship and suffering. Let’s flip over a few pages to Psalm 13 – like a Blues song, this Psalm was meant to be sung. [Read Psalm] Even in these 6 short verses, the twist comes in verse 5 with a message of hope and reassurance and it ends with the words, “I will sing to the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.”
Can we say that today? Can we say that we will sing God’s praises even while we are singing the blues? That’s the mystery of God’s unfailing love for us. God provides hope regardless of our current trials. Many are finding today especially difficult as we take a moment, light candles and remember our loved ones who have died this year. Their loss is something we will carry with us always. Yet we also carry a measure of hope for what our loved ones would want for each of us. We carry the assurance of God’s strength and comfort that at times may be the only thing that keeps us going.
One interesting similarity between Blues music and the Psalms of lament is their withstanding the test of time. Some will say both the Blues and the Psalms have passed their time of importance but I have to disagree. Both seem to hold great meaning for all of us. Hard times in life are to be expected. Jesus promised us that in this world we will have trouble but to take heart because he has already overcome the world. Blues legend BB King is joined here by a 70’s music favorite, Gladys Knight. Listen to this song and you may want to pay attention to the other musicians as well – folks like Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, and a host of other greats. [Play video – BB King and Friends Night of Blistering Blues (1987.)]
Even in times of sorrow and times when we are struggling to feel God’s presence in our lives, we can live with the assurance that we are beloved by God who will never leave or forsake us.
Lament Psalms give us an outlet to vent our fears and frustrations to God while still knowing that God is ever faithful. While we consider this, let us focus our attention on the recognition of our loved ones who have passed away this year. We are reminded that life is finite – our days on earth are a mere glimpse of the eternity awaiting us that our loved ones are already experiencing. Consider these words from Rick Warren, pastor of the Saddleback Church in California, whose fame was secured with his book series, The Purpose Driven Life.
“People ask me, ‘What is the purpose of life?’ And I respond: ‘In a nutshell, life is preparation for eternity. We were not made to last forever, and God wants us to be with Him in Heaven. One day my heart is going to stop, and that will be the end of my body– but not the end of me. I may live 60 to 100 years on earth, but I am going to spend trillions of years in eternity. This is the warm-up act – the dress rehearsal. God wants us to practice on earth what we will do forever in eternity.” My prayer today is that you will find these words of hope a comfort to you even during our times of lament. As is noted in Psalm 30:5 that we read last week, “Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes in the morning.” Amen.