I could talk some more about Lazarus today, along with his sisters. They show up in this chapter. But I only have so much time and space to talk about the chapter, and it seems there are bigger things going on here. In any of the gospels, when you come to Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, you know you’re entering the endgame.
In 2001, I took a year off to work between high school and college. During that time, my mom introduced me to Michael Card via his “best of” album Joy in the Journey. One track, “God’s Own Fool,” begins with Card singing in an impossibly high register about Jesus’ contemporary reputation as a wise teacher, despite the fact that many who actually witnessed his ministry firsthand regarded him as certified looney tunes:
For even his family said he was mad,
And the priests said a demon’s to blame,
But God in the form of this angry young man
Could not have seemed perfectly sane.
And this is precisely what we see happen smack in the middle of today’s chapter of Mark.
I’m a little on the short side. But when I was far shorter than I am now, probably only four or five years old, my mom taught me a song that told the story of today’s chapter from Acts.
The psalms repeat themselves. Psalms 118 and 136 begin with the same couplet, word-for-word: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His lovingkindness is everlasting” (118:1, 136:1). I could cite more psalms that feature the same line throughout themselves like a chorus or that borrow lines from other psalms like remixes, but I’d be repeating myself. And while Psalm 136 repeats its hook “For His lovingkindness is everlasting” in every single verse, the point of the psalm isn’t repetition. It’s gratitude.
We just finished another minor prophet, so today we flip back to trying to learn new things about gratitude, or at least to remember things about gratitude that we’ve forgotten or haven’t thought about in awhile. Here’s the scene: David has just come back from victory over the Philistines and brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. There, the citizens make offerings, David distributes food to them, and then Asaph the priest (who also wrote a bunch of the psalms) and his relatives offer thanks to God in the form of a psalm. Welcome back to another installment of our stupidly-named series Totally Hip Gratitude. I have made my bed, and now I must sleep in it. But what can we observe about this passage and what it shows us about thankfulness?
Welcome back to Colossians 3 again. Paul is kind of all over the place in this chapter, and so shall I likewise be. Remember, if there’s a single theme to this chapter, it is: “Hey, you! Don’t do that! Do this!”
I can’t read this psalm without thinking of Sara Groves’ song “Cave of Adullam.” As soon as I read the epigraph “A Maskil of David, when he was in the cave,” the melody starts playing, and then I read the line “No one cares for my soul” (4) and Sara Groves is singing it in my head. David wrote the psalm about a particular point during the time he spent fleeing from Saul, when he took refuge in a cave. I feel like I should note that the cave in question wasn’t necessarily the cave of Adullam (1 Samuel 22:1-2); David hid out in a lot of caves while he was on the run. Sara Groves’ “Cave of Adullam” is an imaginative interpretation of David’s experience. Nonetheless, I will mention music I love at the drop of a hat because it makes for decent intros, and “Cave of Adullam” is good music.
Psalm 136 picks up Psalm 118’s repetition of the phrase “His lovingkindness is everlasting” in its opening verses and takes it to its logical conclusion: repeating it throughout the whole song. The result is a call-and-response worship song that is sure to get the whole ancient Hebrew congregation bouncing. It inspired the song “Forever,” written by Chris Tomlin and performed by Michael W. Smith on his 2001 album Worship. “Forever” repeats the line “His love endures forever” throughout the verses, but while it focuses on God’s faithfulness, power, and compassion for humankind in general, Psalm 136 is specifically a song from Israel’s history about Israel’s history.
As the saying goes, stop me if you’ve heard this one. It’s “I Lift My Eyes Up,” originally written by Brian Doerksen, whose music was a staple of contemporary worship services from the mid-90s to the early 2000s–including those of my high school youth group. I couldn’t find a streamable official recording, so this one’s a live cover from UK-based Vineyard Music. Doerksen drew inspiration from Psalm 121 for “I Lift My Eyes Up;” it recapitulates the first two verses in particular almost word-for-word. But while Doerksen’s song is as much a prayer for aid as an acknowledgement of God’s power to save, Psalm 121 is pure confidence in God’s protection.
I expect that lyrical repetition has been around for as long as singing itself. It’s a potent device. If you want to write a hit pop song, get yourself a simple, singable chorus and a catchy hook, and lean into it hard: just drill it into your listeners’ heads. And whatever lyrical gymnastics you’re pulling off in your rap track, whatever rapid-fire vocals and complex internal rhymes, make sure you’ve got a good call-and-response chorus to get the audience bouncing. And to go back further, if you’re an ancient Hebrew lyricist, you too can put these techniques to work. Enter Psalm 118.