Day of wrath! O day of mourning!
See fulfilled the prophets' warning,
Heaven and earth in ashes burning!
I have a new favorite song: the Dies Irae. Day of wrath, day of mourning. Sounds really heavy, right? And Lent is still over two weeks away. Why not wait ‘til then to talk this up. Better to set that dreary mood after Mardi Gras. That was my initial thought. However, after jamming out to DC*B's version of this ancient hymn for a month, it has made me realize something that's bursting in my chest right now. This song about the dawn of Judgment Day illuminates a part of Christian theology that was once over emphasized and is now largely ignored, a part of our good news that for centuries was seen as nothing more than bad news. Our modern mentality looks upon the last Judgment with a skepticism that disguises a groping fear. Some of the hardcore movies of our time (Terminator, Armageddon, etc) are about preventing judgment day, about erasing it, rather than about finding the courage to face it down. But Judgment Day, in the Christian tradition, ends on a happy note.
Death is struck, and nature quaking,
all creation is awaking,
to its Judge an answer making.
David Crowder purposely wrote his version of the song in C (the happiest of all keys!). That doesn't mean that the song is all sunshine and sparkles and rainbows. It does mean, however, that the very last note we hear resolve the whole hymn is a ‘C.’ If you have a piano or guitar on hand, go ahead and strike a C for me…Very good! It’s quite a happy sound, isn’t it? In the context of a sequence of songs full of dissonant power chords, fiery prophets, peals of thunder and the death of the Son of God, this simple C rings out with profound beauty. The point that Crowder is trying to make after 18 minutes of reflecting on death and judgment is that there is something strikingly beautiful to look forward to. At the end of it all.
Think, good Jesus, my salvation
cost thy wondrous Incarnation;
leave me not to reprobation!
So there was the Holocaust. And there were the Gulags. Now there is apartheid and abortion, greed and global warming. So there will be political infighting, economic unrest, famines and fires, widows and wars, and yet it will not yet be the end (See Matt. 24:6). We know not the day nor the hour, though in our darkest hours we may hope it comes sooner rather than later. Though I do not consider myself a melancholy person, I cannot have an entirely optimistic outlook on the way the world is going. I've certainly never had the chance to be idealistic. My teenage years began with 9/11 and culminated in hurricane Katrina. Whether or not things are really getting any worse, I have no scientific reason to believe that anything short of the Reign of God could make them any better. Yes, scientific: because, as far my study of the sciences (physical, social, liberal) goes, it seems obvious that God would have to come down in order to truly reverse the effects of entropy. The crimes of racism and murder cry out from the ground not just to congress or the UN. They cry to the heavens asking for atonement. My faith brings me real comfort in the knowledge that, when the time comes to judge humanity for the killings of the poor and the Jews, it will be a poor Jewish carpenter sitting on the throne.
Faint and weary, thou hast sought me,
on the cross of suffering bought me.
shall such grace be vainly brought me?
Yet, this is not the only comfort I derive. He is, after all, a truly merciful judge, like us in all ways except sin. In all ways except sin. In all ways that are good, true and beautiful. In all ways except those ways that have led to our own destruction. To this Judge, who is truly God and also truly bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh (recall: He is our spouse as well), we cry out, "Huic ego parce, Deus!”
When all is done, Judgment comes. Spare, O God: have mercy.
As a closing note, I would like to point out how refreshing it is to hear the phrase "Have mercy" resound in praise and worship songs. Normally, the Protestant theology of the authors of this genre steers them away from publically proclaiming this petition. Because of the reasons listed above, I feel that it is oh so necessary to sing it now and always. With all the weariness of this world, my heart cries out for mercy, but it cries out in the key of C!
Pie Jesu Domine,
Dona nobis requiem. Amen.