The Forefeast and Sunday Before the Elevation of the Cross, September 13, 2015
Galatians 6:11-18; John 3:13-17
Rev. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
This week, I noticed a pattern in popular music of our time that I had not noticed before. It was something I heard in song lyrics. I’ll quote some for you from a few different songs:
So cut me from the line / Dizzy, spinning endlessly / Somebody make me feel alive /
And shatter me. (Lindsey Stirling / Lzzy Hale, “Shatter Me”)
Don’t let me die here / There must be something more / Bring me to life (Evanescence, “Bring Me to Life”)
How can the only thing that’s killing me make me feel so alive? (Parachute, “She (For Liz)”)
I could lie, couldn’t I, couldn’t I? / Every thing that kills me makes me feel alive. (OneRepublic, “Counting Stars”)
Do whatever I’m yours / Do whatever I’m sure / Anything, anything, anything, anything to feel alive (Jhené Aiko, “Drinking and Driving”)
When everything feels like the movies / Yeah, you bleed just to know you’re alive (Goo Goo Dolls, “Iris”)
Those are from six different songs. I could quote lots more like this, but this sample should suffice. These are all popular songs from the radio.
So what is the pattern? There are two things here. First, there is a cry out to be made to “feel alive” or to “come alive.” I did a Google search on a large popular song lyrics website, and there were nearly 1,100 songs that mentioned wanting to “feel alive.” Almost 1,300 used the phrase “come alive.” 100 used the phrase “bring me to life.”
I started clicking around when I saw this pattern and looked at the full lyrics to a few dozen songs. And the second pattern I noticed was that this language of wanting to feel alive was often paired with language about death and/or violence. For many of these lyricists, the key to feeling “alive” was first to die, to feel the pain of violence or to commit violence.
And why? For me, the most illustrative was that lyric from the Goo Goo Dolls, in a song from 1998: When everything feels like the movies / Yeah, you bleed just to know you’re alive.
The world in which we live more and more “feels like the movies.” Not only do we often imitate what we see in movies, whether in our actions or in our expectations or even in our feelings, but our daily experience of life is so very often increasingly artificialized, produced, manipulated—the “virtual” world is now “real.” I recall back in the 1990s, when I would interact with people on the Internet, we would often be discussing someone, and we would say, “I know him in real life” (“IRL” for short). No one says that any more. The distinction between “in real life” and “on the Internet” has been collapsed. Everything feels like the movies.
And what is the result? We as a culture are desperate to “feel alive.” The virtualizing of nearly all aspects of life has yielded a growing sense that everything really is fake. Remember “The Matrix”? That was a movie about how everything really is fake.
And we feel more alienated. And yet we want to know and to be known. When the Goo Goo Dolls wrote that song, they had a sense of this, because they also wrote this lyric:
And I don’t want the world to see me
‘Cause I don’t think that they’d understand
When everything’s made to be broken
I just want you to know who I am.
So what is the point of this little tour through pop music? This is just one way of taking the temperature of our culture, of getting a sense of where we are as a people. There is a sort of anesthetization of life these days. We’re always trying to feel better, to feel entertained, to feel alive. And our pop songs sing about violence—even self-violence. And the movies and TV get more graphically violent. And the consumption of pornography is nearly off the charts. And we watch wars in other countries on TV as a perverse form of entertainment. All this is while incidences of actual violent crimes are going down in our country. It’s almost like we miss it, so we put it into our entertainment so we can have it back.
Many of our young people cut themselves with razor blades. The “hook-up” culture is in full swing on college campuses. Why? Why all this pain and transgression of our bodies? We want to “feel alive.” Somehow. Maybe this will help. Maybe even pain will make me feel real.
Compare this with what we begin to meditate upon today, which is the Forefeast of the Elevation of the Cross and also the Sunday before that great feast. Into our culture of virtual violence and screaming out for the feeling of life come these words of the Apostle Paul: “But God forbid that I should boast, except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world.” And then: “I bear in my body the brand-marks of the Lord Jesus.”
It’s not clear exactly what Paul means when he says that he bears in his body “the brand-marks of the Lord Jesus.” But he is probably speaking of his own suffering, that he has been physically wounded for his confession of faith. Paul is no stranger to violence. He feels pain. He is beaten. He is thrown into prison. He will be beheaded. Paul knows about violence. He knows about death.
Paul knows what it means to feel all these things. And so he also knows that, in them, there is not life. They don’t make him feel alive. They don’t bring him to life. They don’t satisfy the desire that we all have to break through the fakeness and the falsity of this world.
Only one thing can do that. Only one thing can bring us not to be alienated, but to know and to be known. Only one thing can bring us through death and into life. That one thing is the Cross of Jesus Christ.
“But God forbid that I should boast, except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world.”
Paul embraces the death of the world! And he embraces his own death. But not because he just wants to feel alive. He embraces death because he knows that in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is life. He embraces death because knows that he himself must be crucified with Christ so that his death can be joined with Christ’s death.
This is the paradox of our great hope as Christians—that we seek life, just like the pop songs! And we seek death and even violence, just like the pop songs! But it is not just any death or any violence that brings us life. It is the suffering and death of Jesus, to which we join our own suffering and death by repentance, by confession, by the sacraments, by love.
The wisdom of God is written into our hearts. We know deep within that life can be had, and that life comes through violence and even death. Where we fail is when we seek those things for their own sake or for some feeling. And we are hurt. And we hurt.
The pop songs get it right, but not quite right. There is more to life than merely “feeling alive.” Life is not found in mere violence and death. Life is found in sacrifice and resurrection. Life is found in Jesus Christ, and in His Cross we therefore glory. Like Paul, we boast. Like Paul, we are crucified to the world, and the world is crucified to us. And death is slain. And we are made truly alive. And with Christ we will rise from the dead.
To the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit therefore be all glory, honor and power, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.