I don’t have much time to blog this week, so it’s a great opportunity to share another songwriting story. Today my newest anthem from Shawnee Press hit the shelves, We Remember Christ (click on the song title to listen). It is a collaborative effort with my friend and songwriting mentor Robert Sterling.
I say it was a collaboration, but Robert did a lot of the work. He wrote the tune, arranged the anthem, and supported me through the lyric-writing process. He could have easily written his own incredible lyrics. But, the fact is, he is humble. He gave me a great opportunity. It is refreshing to find someone of his caliber carry himself in such an unassuming manner. We could all learn a lesson from his example.
One day I received an unexpected email from Robert. He wrote a great hymn tune. And he wanted me to write the lyrics. I was thrilled at the privilege.
It was the first time I had written a text to a tune. You may think that is getting the cart before the horse. Aren’t we supposed to focus on the text first? Well, yes, the text is extremely important. But in the creative process it is possible to wed text and tune in either direction. Form, function, rhyme and scansion all will dictate the shape of a song’s text. So even if you write a text first, it may change substantially by the time you reach the end.
A lyricist isn’t really free to write whatever comes to mind. You may begin with one idea, then take it in a totally different direction because the creative process naturally drove you there.
When I heard Robert’s tune, I immediately thought of the sober yet celebratory nature of communion. The hymn divides into three stanzas.
- The first stanza casts a backward look, remembering the substitutionary atonement of Christ on the cross. Remembering what God has done is a crucial theme that runs through the entirety of Scripture. It is, in fact, what Christ commanded us to do when celebrating the Lord’s table.
- The second stanza focuses on our present fellowship with Christ. We commune with Him around the table, tasting of the grace that only the Bread of Life can give. Every Lord’s table is an opportunity to talk to Christ and carefully examine the status of my relationship with Him.
- The third stanza lifts Christ up as the only hope, both now and into the future, for all mankind. If we have partaken of Christ, we cannot help but tell others the good news of His salvation offered to all humanity.
The bridge between the second and third stanzas is creedal in nature, joyfully confessing the church’s unified faith in our resurrected, loving Lord. It leads naturally into the hope of proclaiming Christ in the third stanza.
I pray you will be blessed by the wonderful truths in this song. It has definitely been a joy for me to meditate on.
And when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said,
“This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying,
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood.
Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
1 Corinthians 11:24-25