A Holy Week Playlist: Music for Meditating on the Death that Changed the World

“This is it!” I once heard a priest, robed in red, proclaim on Passion Sunday. “This week is the center of our faith.”

And so it is. This is the week to ponder the meaning of the Christ, the Cross, the Death that changed the world.

“Long before [Matthew] Arnold’s sea of faith began its withdrawal and long before Nietzche [proclaimed God is dead,]” observes Richard John Neuhaus in Death on a Friday Afternoon: Meditations on the Last Words of Jesus from the Cross,” Christians contemplated that God has died”:

The worst that could possibly happen has already happened. Far beyond plague or nuclear annhilation or the withering of the last flower or the death of the last child–it happened on a certain Friday afternoon outside the walls of Jerusalem. There we turned on the One who embodied all the light, all the love, all the hope that ever was or ever will be. This is what we did to God. In the unflinching realism of the Christian faith, there is nothing to be done about it, there is no undoing it; there is only the possibility of forgiveness.

God has died! And this event, in which God proves Himself more loving, more open, more humble than we could have ever imagined, will ring out in the resurrection as the means God used to remove death’s sting and begin the slow unfolding of a new creation. (It took billions of years as we count them to unfold the first creation, so perhaps we shouldn’t be so shocked at the slow unveiling of the new, which will one day culminate at the end of time as we count it.)

I happened, at the time of that particular Holy Week, to be listening to Bruce Cockburn’s album The Charity of Night, and after hearing that priest I played Cockburn’s “The Whole Night Sky” over and over. While there are surely multiple meanings for a song like this, I hear the voice of Christ in the narrator: “Look, see my tears, they fill the whole night sky.”

God has joined our misery, our rejections, our agonizing pains and even our death. He’s not too good for us after all. He makes Himself completely accessible, meeting our worst and present with us in it.

I began gathering songs into a playlist for Holy Week, a list to keep these mysteries in my heart and mind, and I’ve selected the best to share with you on Spotify.

The the playlist I’m sharing includes “The Whole Night Sky.” I hope it will take you deeper into the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection, the center of our faith.

Additional highlights you won’t want to miss:

Audrey Assad’s “Humble.”

It may not be difficult to see God as all-powerful, since He is the Creator. But it takes longer to see Him as humble: “Not too proud to wear our skin, to know this weary world we’re in.” That humility is revealed in Christ, who “being in the form of God, did not think equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself unto death, even death on a Cross.”

Fortunate Fall is a work of art from start to finish, a powerful meditation on the “Happy Fault” of Adam, whose sin reavealed God to be a Lover of incomprehensible identification with us.

Andrew Peterson’s “In the Night.”

This steely song of melacholy hope takes us through the Old Testament faith of the Hebrew people who struggled through so much darkness, and then to Jesus Christ: “And if mercy in His holy heart is beating, then in the night, my hope lives on.” I’ve written more about this tune in “In the Night: a Song for Your Playlist of Hope.”

It’s included in Flight Fuel: An Eclectic Playlist of Hope, the list I send to everyone who subscribes to Sparrowfare.

Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love.”

You may be wondering about the inclusion of this beautiful song, often sung as a simple, proclamation of a devoted lover’s heart. It is that, of course, but I’ve long heard echoes of Christ’s heart in this moving melody and unconditional love.

“I’d go hungry, I’d go black and blue, I’d go crawling down the avenue, oh, there’s nothing that I would not do to make you feel my love.” (When Bishop Robert Barron on this episode of The Word on Fire Show made a similar observation, you can imagine that it made may day.)

There’s much more, an hour and a half of thoughtful music.

From Bruce Springsteen’s “Jesus Was an Only Son” to Rick Elias’ “Man of No Reputation” (a song Rich Mullins couldn’t hear without tearing up) to Matt Maher’s passionate “Unwavering,” there’s over an hour and a half of thoughtful music to spur your own meditation and desire to enter deeper into the infinite Heart of Mercy.

This week is the center of our faith.

I hope this playlist blesses you, and please let me know what songs I missed! I’ll be updating the list all week, and offering a new playlist of songs for celebrating the Resurrection on Easter Sunday.

Holy Week: the center of our faith. Let’s enter in fully, drawing near to Christ in his moment of abandonment, thanking God for the “happy fault that won for us so great a Redeemer.

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Brother: A Song for Holy Thursday’s New Commandment

Brother’s Keeper: A Playlist for Growing a Merciful Heart

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Photo by Joachim Riegel on Unsplash.

2 thoughts on “A Holy Week Playlist: Music for Meditating on the Death that Changed the World

  1. Hi Peggy –

    I finally managed to listen to your playlists on Spotify. Sometimes it seems to take me so long to do the simplest things. Thank you for sharing this beautiful music and weaving together this profound message to ponder on in the days to come.


    1. I know what you mean about those “simple” things that seem to take so long! Really glad you found it, Kristin. Hope it blesses your weekend!

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