Ok, so we’re back at Rock & Soul for a Halloween inspired encore. I cut my guitar chops on records like Master of Puppets, …And Justice For All, and the Black Album. If you don’t know these titles than you don’t know one of the biggest, highest record selling bands of history: Metallica.
I can’t say I was a huge fan of Loaded and Re-Loaded, which I bought but never really bought into. However, James and the boys are back in a vengeance with this latest single release “Now That We’re Dead” off their latest record, “Hardwired…To Self Destruct”. This single reached #2 on the Mainstream Rock billboard.
If you’re rolling your eyes at the titles, good for you: welcome to heavy metal drama at its finest!
When I first heard this song, I immediately connected biblical stories. It’s rife with religious imagery. If you surf Reddit very much, even on a website that is traditionally very secular and anti-religious, people were curious.
It’s fascinating to note that while lots of people aren’t part of a church or think of living their faith as an intentional choice both personally and communally, the impact of the bible on our culture is still loud and clear.
So What! interviewed James Hetfield on the lyrics:
“NOW THAT WE’RE DEAD”
JH: Yeah, at the end of the day we’re all the same. Having something to believe in, maybe there’s an afterlife. Maybe it started out as wanting to be more of a modern-day Romeo and Juliet. We’re in this together.
Helping each other through life. And you know, “now that we’re dead,” I mean that could mean lots of things. Actually, you are dead. You’re onto the next life. Or you’ve gone through something horrible as a couple. Now you’re [both] on the other side of it. So, trusting in another person.
And at the end of the day, your behaviors, whatever you’ve done, they’re just behaviors. You can amend them, you can make up for them, and together, move on with a clean conscience. There’s [also] an exploration feel of, like, “I don’t know what’s next – come on, let’s try it. Let’s go. Let’s do it.”
Ummm…ok. Let’s recap:
1) Humanity is equal.
2) We’re in this life together. There’s more to life than we know or imagine.
3) We have to help each other.
4) In order to find resurrection (“new life”) we need to let some things go (“die”)
5) Your behaviours don’t define you. There is hope. It’s never too late to find reconciliation and new life.
6) We don’t know what happens around the next turn, so let’s go there together, trusting we aren’t alone.
So who knew the lead singer of one of the world’s greatest heavy metal bands can preach the gospel of Jesus and hit number 2 on a billboard with none the wiser? Ok, that’s a bit of a stretch, but only just.
We all know that’s what baptism is about right? At least in part, it’s a ritualized way of demonstrating we have to let some things go in order for something new to begin. For God, death isn’t the end. God is never finished creating, and baptism is always a sign that even with death, behold, God is making all things new. Even me and you.
It’s a kinda well established theme in scripture eh?
So, put on your Halloween best, crank those laptop speakers and enjoy some serious skull candy by listening to the audio below. The official video has more than 14.4 million hits.
Below is a road trip through each verse that connects the bible with the song. As always, what it means is up to you, but here’s how I hear it…
When darkness falls
May it be
That we should see the light
[John 1:1] In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
“The light” in John’s gospel is the life of God’s Word of creation in Jesus. In the original language of the gospel, it’s translated as “Logos”. You know that word because you see it in Psych-ology , Bi-ology, Physi-ology, etc.
It’s a principle around and through which something is created – in the biblical case – the universe. John’s gospel notes that the way society and culture is organized often turns a blind eye to the power of love and justice. Haven’t you seen the news lately?
The Good News is that even though what was true then is also true now, the light is still shining even though darkness falls.
One of the most powerful verses of John is that Jesus transcends the way we belong – not by nation, or blood relation, creed or clan, “but to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12)
In my ear, the song hopes we can see the possibility of new life even if it means letting go of what we know all too well.
When reaper calls
May it be
That we walk straight and right
[Isaiah 40:3] A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
[Mark 1:1] The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
Without getting caught in the cultural semantics of some religious minds and ears, we make the road by walking it and the way we walk needs to change. Biblically, this is not some take on heterosexuality…I’m pretty sure no one was talking about being “straight” as a cultural reference 2000 years ago.
What people were talking about then, and now, is that death is a great equalizer regardless of whether we are rich or poor. But rather than treating this pearl of wisdom as a judgement we ought to be afraid of because it’s only delivered after we leave this earthly life, the First Testament and the Gospel imagined a greater motivator: New life. Here. Now.
“I am the truth, the way, and the life.” What else did you think Jesus meant? The question is whether you want to walk that way, and if you do, that means letting go of a lot of baggage that’s weighing us all down.
God is paving the road ahead of those who have the courage to walk it. That road will lead out of death’s valley and into new life – a promised land where something incredible and never before imagined is about to begin.
It sounds great. It’s terrifying in its own right and not because we need to be afraid of divine judgement at the end of days. It’s scary because it’s possible to find new life. But do we have the courage to step out into what we cannot already see? To explore what we don’t already know? In order to see the light, you’ve got to be willing to step out into the grey.
When doubt returns
May it be
That faith shall permeate our scars
[John 20:24-31] But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
There’s one thing you can count on in life – for every step forward on the road, you’re going to be knocked back a few. The gospel never denies this. No one said resurrection is easy. The question we ought to ask might be: is it worth it?
The Risen Christ isn’t shiny and new. He didn’t come fresh out of the action figure with kung-fu grip box off God’s assembly line. He’s full of scars. Scars don’t just tell the story of our trauma, they also tell the story of new life. Scars don’t just relive our past, they speak to the present “us” and who we are becoming. They define what we’ve been through, not who we will become.
That’s the story of Jesus. That’s the road of faith we make by walking together. And doubt my friends, like Thomas reminds us, is an essential part of that journey. Success doesn’t require courage. Counting on what we already know, doesn’t require faith in what we haven’t discovered yet.
Welcome to Christianity 101.
When we’re seduced
Then may it be
That we not deviate our cause [MK 1:9-15]
[Mark 1:9-15] In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
Our cultural and societal ways of understanding what it means to be human are at odds with what God intends in creation. The intention, the logos, is not that a few sit on top of pyramids while the masses slave and suffer below (there’s that little story about Egypt you might have heard about in the bible).
But what’s seductive about what we know is the status quo is comforting in its own right. Why question the big things in life? Isn’t it hard enough just to get by? Just keep your head down – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Nothing is a more broken portrait of God’s image than slavery to what we already know and do to one another as human beings. God has created and is creating. If we are fully alive, than we are active partners of the spiritual evolution God is birthing too.
As soon as Jesus is baptized, he’s tempted by the status quo. He’s presented with the option of grasping at power as sure as our metaphorical ancestors decided to in Eden. But Jesus won’t walk that way.
The word repent basically means, “question everything”. It’s a 180 degree turn in a different direction. If you know anything about Jesus’ life, you know that’s exactly what he did. It got him killed. For those with faith to see, it also raised a new life for all.
No wonder people are cynical about religion, whose mantra has long been twisted into “question nothing”. The light of Jesus ministry shines in the darkness of John’s death – someone who also questioned everything and paid the price for it.
All sinners, a future
All saints, a past
Beginning, the ending
Return to ash
[Genesis 3:19] By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread
until you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”
I often get asked where the “dust to dust” line of a funeral comes from. Well, if you’ve ever been up at night wondering, now you know. The saying comes from the ending of the garden story of Adam and Eve. I love how the song recognizes what the bible does too: the line between sinner and saint is especially blurry, much to the contrary of what religion has often taught us.
At funerals, I don’t recite this line to give death any comfort. I see death as only a means to life’s grander scheming. The return to ash is not the end, but the seed for something new to spring forth. I know what you’re thinking – that’s a stretch. In church, we call that faith.
Now that we’re dead, my dear
We can be together
Now that we’re dead, my dear
We can live forever
At SJUC we’ve been having a lot of fun reading Brian McLaren’s “We Make The Road by Walking”, as you can tell by this post and most of my preaching this fall. One of the ideas he challenges is that eternal life is just endless time. Surely to goodness faith has a greater imagination than just doing the same things here on earth, up in heaven, for ever because it’s easier. Most popular religious imagination is just that: persecuting your enemies after Jesus comes back to pick you up and take you away to paradise while the left behind rot in hell.
Lord. Have. Mercy.
How can anyone read the Lord’s Prayer and say that stuff with a straight face?
I rather like Brian’s challenge that scripture calls for us to “seek aliveness” – that we are called to be fully alive, over brimming with the stuff, and filled with the creative energy of God in all things.
In my mind the song imagines death as necessary only to new life that is very much possible here and now – on earth as it is in heaven. Living forever isn’t just endless time on the clock for more of the same, eternal life is discovering the One who created and is creating even here, even now, in us all.
When all is pain
May it be
It’s all we’ve ever known
[Psalm 51:6,8-12] You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.
A long, long time ago in a galaxy that looks remarkably like our own, the psalmist sang of pain. A lot. There’s quite a bit of it in this life in case you hadn’t noticed.
And yet, the psalm doesn’t let pain end the possibility of life – that doesn’t require faith. The biblical singer imagines a new possibility, one of restoration and purpose in what seems like a meaningless situation that’s full of anguish. Study after study shows prayer and spiritual community are manna for the soul and help our distress tolerance immensely. Yes, church can be good for you.
When flame consumes
May it be
It warms our dying bones
[PROV 25:4] Take away the dross from the silver,
and the smith has material for a vessel;
There’s lots of verses I could think of here from the bible, but Proverbs really stands out. God doesn’t destroy for the sake of destruction. That runs completely roughshod over the logos of creation we talked about. At its best, fire is about transformation in the bible. In this case, much of who we are needs to be refined as human beings, but the aim is for a new vessel to take shape. God’s eye is always on life – what a world it would be if ours was too.
When loss has won
May it be
It’s you I’m madly fighting for
[LK 23:46] Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last.
I can think of no better lyric to describe Jesus’ last words to the world. Instead of fear or revenge or judgement, Jesus proved to be made of a different word altogether: Love. Grace. Mercy. Hope. Loss can win all it wants in this world. I want to put my money on the Creator. She’s playing the long game of life instead of the short gains of death, and Jesus knew it. He fought for it until he breathed his last, and even then, even now.
When Kingdom comes
May it be
We walk right through that open door
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
What Jesus desperately believed with every fiber of the witness in his body that the gospels lay down, is this: Here. Now. The kingdom comes. Even here. Even now. The kingdom comes. Even today. Even in you and me. The kingdom comes.
Behold, Christ stands at the door and knocks. To answer is to leave what we know on the shoreline behind us, and discover something altogether new. Do we have courage? Do we have faith? Are we willing to walk this way? There will be pain, doubt, and sacrifice.
The question remains, now that we’re dead my dear, are we finished?
I’m paraphrasing the lyrics but, Beyond the black, can we rise again?
Or will we walk right through that open door?
Like the song, my bet, is definitely on the latter.