“When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” – Matthew 26:30
Do we ever consider just how unusual this is? Jesus has just finished sharing his final meal with his disciples. As they were gathered around the table, Jesus has already told them that one of them is a traitor who will betray him and that his body is about to be broken and his blood is about to be shed. So how does the meal end? With everybody singing.
From this side of the cross, it is easy for us to sing “Victory in Jesus” and “Down at the Cross … Glory to His Name!”. However, if we put ourselves at that table that night, knowing only what the disciples knew, I don’t think these are the songs we would be singing. As a matter of fact, I think our song might sound more like the song of the Babylonian exiles preserved in Psalm 137:
By the rivers of Babylon – there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung our harps. For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’ How could we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither! Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy. Remember, O LORD, against the Edomites the day of Jerusalem’s fall, how they said, ‘Tear it down! Tear it down! Down to its foundations!’ O daughter Babylon, you devastator! Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us! Happy shall they be who your little ones and dash them against the rock!”
Anger, frustration, vengeance – that is the tone of Psalm 137, crying out the emotions of those who have seen everything taken away from them. I think, as one of those disciples gathered around the table with Jesus, these would be my feelings as I really considered everything Jesus was saying. Do I feel like singing? No, I probably feel more like Peter, ready to strike with my sword anybody who comes to take Jesus. Or I feel like running away and hiding in fear as the other disciples.
Jesus, on the other hand, asks us to put down the sword, to put away our fear, and to pick up the tune of a song. It may not be a toe-tapping number. It may be a song of hurt and anger and frustration, crying out for retribution or groaning in agony. But we are asked to pick up a song that takes the powers of violence out of our hands, that responds to the temptation to betray with an assurance of hope, and puts our struggles into the hands of a Savior who has already told us that there will be resurrection.
Put down the sword, and pick up a song of faith. When we are hurt or angry, these are the moments when we are tempted to become least Christ-like. Facing the cross, Jesus invited his disciples to lay down their instincts and to sing a song.
What do we do when confronted with life’s crosses? Would we be willing to sing a song of faith in God rather than act according to our own instincts and desires? What song of faith would help you turn towards Christ in difficult moments?
“Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, sweetest name I know, fills my every longing, keeps me singing as I go.”