There’s a song I used to sing to our kids when they were younger. Sometimes I would sing it to them simply because I would have one of those moments when I would look at them and just be filled with joy from the simple fact that they exist. It just made me happy that they were there. So I would sing this silly song to them. But sometimes, more often, really, I would sing the song because they were in a snit about something and being pouty and cranky and not their real, better selves. So I would sing.
Look at that face, just look at it, look at that fabulous face of yours!
I knew first look I took at it this was a face that the world adores.
Look at those eyes as wise and as deep as the sea!
Look at that nose! It shows what a nose should be.
As for your smile, it’s lyrical, friendly and warm as a summer’s day.
That smile is just a miracle, where would I ever find words to say
The way that it makes me happy, whatever the time or place.
I’ll find in no book what I find when I look at that face.
Did anyone ever sing over you? To you? About you? It’s hard to remain gloomy if someone is singing to you.
Most of the Book of Zephaniah is full of doom and gloom. For two long chapters, the prophet makes it abundantly clear that God is mightily upset with idolatry, the ways the rich are taking advantage of the poor, and the way justice is being perverted. But then suddenly at the end of his long, angry poem, the prophet changes his tune. Suddenly his song about the end of the world becomes a song of grace and forgiveness.
Sing aloud, daughter of Zion; shout, all Israel!
Rejoice, daughter, and exult with all your heart, daughter of Jerusalem!
The Judge of All Flesh has taken away the judgments against you…
The sovereign of Israel, Creator of the Heavens and Earth,
is in your midst, daughter; no longer shall you fear evil.
The Ageless One, your God, is in your midst, daughter,
a warrior who will deliver salvation;
who will rejoice over you with gladness, daughter,
God will renew you in love, daughter,
God will exult over you, daughter, with loud singing.
Zephaniah had been telling the people that God was about to erase them from the face of the earth, but then he stops and says, “No, that’s not what God’s going to do at all.” God forgives you. God loves you. God is with you, next to you. God claims you as a daughter. So let’s sing!”
It’s a kind of resurrection. Zephaniah had declared them as good as dead. But then… grace! Forgiveness! Joy!
God will renew you with love.
God will exult over you with singing.
Can you imagine God exulting over you?
Can you imagine God singing about you?
The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus is the Word who became flesh and lived among us, full of grace and truth, but maybe we could also see Jesus as the Song that God sings to us, the embodiment of the music of all creation who was and is in our midst bringing grace, restoration, and resurrection.
That’s what the gospels are about, you know. They are songs of restoration and resurrection.
At the beginning of the Gospel of Mark, right after Jesus has cast out an unclean spirit in the synagogue, he goes to the home of Peter and Andrew, accompanied by James and John. There he discovers that Peter’s mother-in-law is ill with a fever. Jesus takes her by the hand and lifts her up and the fever leaves her.
When Jesus has restored Peter’s mother-in-law, Mark tells us that she served them. We tend to bristle at that. Personally, I like Wilda Gafney’s translation here. She says that Peter’s mother-in-law “ministered to them.” The verb in question is diakoneo and it can mean both to serve and to minister to. That’s the verb that’s used in Mark 10:45 when Jesus describes himself as one who came not to be served, but to serve. He tells the twelve that “whoever wishes to be first must be last and servant of all” and “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant.”
Serving is the mark of faithful discipleship. It’s what followers of Jesus are supposed to do, and at the end of Mark’s gospel, we see that it is the women who followed Jesus who really understood about serving. They were the ones who remained faithful to the end. It’s entirely possible that Peter’s mother-in-law was among those women. She rose to serve. And maybe she just kept on serving Jesus all the way to Jerusalem.
Jesus took her hand and lifted her up. What it actually says in the Greek is that he raised her up. It’s the same language that is used in Mark 16 when the startled women at the empty tomb are told that Jesus has been raised up. Mark wants to understand that resurrection wasn’t just the end of the story, it was part of the daily ongoing story of Jesus. The verb egeiro, to raise up, is used repeatedly in Mark’s healing stories. In Mark 2:9, it’s the verb Jesus uses when he tells the paralytic to rise up. In Mark 3:3 he tells the man with a withered hand to rise up and come forward. In Mark 5:41 it’s the word he uses when he takes Jairus’s daughter by the hand and tells her to rise up. In Mark 9:27, when a boy who has had a seizure is lying on the ground “as if dead,” Jesus takes him by the hand and tells him to rise up.
So often we yearn for Jesus to take us by the hand and give us the strength to rise up. When it feels like life has just knocked us flat—when we get some bad news, when our most important relationships seems to be high on tension and low on love, when we feel alone and beset by one dang thing after another, when life feels like a small death and a series of tragedies, we yearn for Jesus to take us by the hand and raise us back to life. We yearn for a small, everyday resurrection.
We all know that need. We all know that feeling, that yearning for the hand of Jesus.
Thomas A. Dorsey wrote a powerful song about it. It was Martin Luther King’s favorite song and he asked Mahalia Jackson to sing it at civil rights rallies. Leontyne Price sang it at the state funeral of President Lyndon Johnson. Aretha Franklin sang it at Mahalia Jackson’s funeral. It’s a song about our yearning for everyday resurrections.
Precious Lord, take my hand,
Lead me on, let me stand,
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn;
Through the storm, through the night,
Lead me on to the light:
Take my hand, precious Lord,
Lead me home.
When my way grows drear,
Precious Lord, linger near,
When my life is almost gone,
Hear my cry, hear my call,
Hold my hand lest I fall:
Take my hand, precious Lord,
Lead me home.
This is Jesus’s ministry of resurrection. Everyday resurrections. Time after time in the gospels, time after time in our own lives, he takes our hand, lifts us up and sings us back to life.
Christ sings us back to life so we can rise up and serve each other and carry the song of resurrection, the song of new life, the song of God’s great love to the rest of the world. Jesus takes us by the hand and raises us up out of our feverish troubles and pain so we can raise up others out of their feverish troubles with the outstretched hand of Christ and the promise of Zephaniah. God is in your midst. Christ is with you.
Rise up. God will renew you with love. And God will exult over you with singing. Loud singing.
 From The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd, Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newly