In the Silence of the Mind: November 11, 2013 (In honor of Veteran’s Day)
Anthems to Overcome the Grave
Today two major events have happened. First of all, the U.S.A. celebrated Veteran’s Day, a holiday where we honor the lives of those who have or currently do serve in the Armed Forces. This day, like Memorial Day, often draws our gaze back to eternity where many of our loved ones have ventured since/during their time of service. The second major event (please don’t think I’m comparing the two for better or worse to either side) was the release of Living Sacrifice’s epic Ghost Thief, which just based upon the title one can tell there is something otherworldly going on.
As I mentioned in my review of that album, the track “Sudden” also serves as a reminder of the “Shadowlands” we now traipse and this “mortal coil” we will one day leave behind. In honor of these two events, I thought it would be (morbidly?) fun to examine my favorite songs that serve as memorial stones to me that this world is not my home, and that I will someday depart for a place that is much greater.
As a pastor, I have often thought about these songs and their impact. Being in the second (or so) most common industry to directly deal with death (have to give morticians their due), it is not uncommon for me to spend a few days a month attending/working funerals. And, while each funeral is vastly different from the rest, one thing remains the same; we all come to deal with our own mortality and heaven/hell questions together during funerals.
Morbid or not, it is during such moments that I have even gone so far as to pick out some of the songs I want played at my own funeral. As a believer in Jesus Christ, I know without a shadow of doubt that life is not the end. It isn’t even the entirety of the first chapter. But, when you’re sitting in what C. S. Lewis so beautifully described as “The Shadowlands” it is sometimes difficult to remind oneself of the joy that is waiting on the other side of the curtain.
To this end, I want to share with you my personal soundtrack for overcoming the grave. Each song is one that speaks beautifully of the hope that can still be found in death. None of the songs are dirges, to the extent that each points not to the sorrow of the grave, but to the expectation of heaven’s first embrace. These are not songs that merely weep with the grieving, they are songs that remind each of us that our grieving is not in vain, for Christ has overcome the grave and death itself will be the final one to die. There is not a particular order to these songs, and several are likely missing that would be fantastic additions (tell me about them in the comments).
One thing is for sure, these are the songs I want to fill my mind with as a reminder that these Shadowlands will soon give way to eternity the way a small seed perishes to give birth to a massive oak tree.
The Artist: Demon Hunter
The Song: “Carry Me Down”
Encompassing Album: Storm the Gates of Hell, Live in Nashville, Music from the Film 45 Days (Piano version)
Why it matters: “Carry Me Down” is a beautiful picture of the hope that can still be found even in death. The message of the song is that even as the body is lowered down “beneath that sky of gray,” that it is better because the soul is in heaven.
Though our pain is natural, “Carry Me Down” reminds us that our joy should be supernatural, for that grave is not our final home.
The Artist: Blindside
The Song: “Where the Sun Never Dies”
Encompassing Album: About a Burning Fire
Why it matters: From the opening lines, Christian beautifully points the listener to that place “we’ve always known was there.” And from that opening line, the barrage of hope never abates. “When I breath for the last time… where the sun never dies, where You shine away my shadow… I’ll drink until I’m not thirsty. I’ll see You on that day when I walk those last steps Your way.”
In every line and every stanza Blindside points the listener back to the true hope that sits on the other side… seeing face to face the One our souls long for.
The Artist: The Showdown
The Song: “Laid to Rest”
Encompassing Album: A Chorus of Obliteration
Why it matters: There simply is no song that handles the hope of heaven more powerfully. Period. The Showdown bring a masterpiece of a ballad with perfectly fitting instrumentation that leads to the utter “obliteration” of the final moments of the song.
“Laid to rest… rise up and meet your Father, joyous at the return of his son. And the world and it’s troubles mean nothing. Only comfort and rest in His arms.”
Just be sure to warn your grandmother about the final minute of the song when you play it for her, or you might be playing it at her funeral immediately after.
The Artist: Mercy Me
The Song: “I Can Only Imagine”
Encompassing Album: Almost There
Why it matters: If you question why this song fits this list… you simply haven’t heard the song (or seen the video!). Mercy Me has crafted THE modern masterpiece when it comes to “Anthems to Overcome the Grave,” and, while I personally hold The Showdown’s “Laid to Rest” (above) as simply the greatest of the pack, Mercy Me’s “I Can Only Imagine” has the distinct advantage of being friendly to the less-than-hard-rock inclined. Or, to put it another way, your grandma will be in tears after hearing the track, not in shock. Still, this song is powerful in the way that few songs are able to accomplish and the true hope of eternity shines from every note.
The Artist: Five Iron Frenzy
The Song: “On Distant Shores”
Encompassing Album: The End is Near (Fitting, no?)
Why it Matters: “If mercy falls upon the broken and the poor, dear Father, I will see You there on distant shores.” As with the songs above, FIF poetically calls out the hope of heaven and paints a wonderful picture of seeing Christ’s face at a distance that is ever closer.
FIF has had many upbeat tracks that belong in anyone’s “Songs for a bad day” collection, but it is this somber and almost pain-filled song that truly brings the listener to their apex of hope. It is also AMAZING that the song samples FIF’s own “Every New Day” to close! Bravo.
The Artist: Showbread
The Song: “You’re Like a Taxi”
Encompassing Album: Who Can Know It?
Why it matters: “When I die, whatever you may say, don’t say I’m gone. Gone is not the word for someone who’s finally found his way back home.”
On an album know for (and by a band known for) breaking all the rules, Showbread paints a very simple and entirely eloquent soliloquy that captures the same heart as Demon Hunter’s “Carry Me Down”, but in slightly different words. As only they could do, the band compares death to a taxi that brings us to our ultimate rest and reminds the listener that what’s left behind is merely a bag of bones. “You and I won’t be there.”
The Artist: Disciple
The Song: “Eternity”
Encompassing Album: Horseshoes and Hand Grenades
Why it matters: Disciple is no stranger to covering the theme of life after death. In fact, to some degree each album seems to have at least one track that covers the basics on this front. However, it is their song “Eternity” that most plainly explores the hope we have in overcoming death.
“Death isn’t alive any longer, when I wake into eternity… Tears are nothing more than a memory.”
The Artist: The Cross Movement
The Song(s): “Forever” and “Cry No More”
Encompassing Album: Holy Culture
Why they matter: The Cross Movement are the fathers of the modern rap era. Though they are no longer operating as a group, it was from their camp that Lecrae (and most of the rest of the 116 clique) started. On arguably their best album, Holy Culture, the group brings a one-two-punch with “Forever” (sung by Tonic) and “Cry No More” (sung by The Ambassador). “Forever” reminds us that we’re set for eternity in Heaven, “Cry No More” reminds us that we’ll be leaving behind the pains of this world in the transition.
“One day I won’t cry no more, can’t wait for the day when people won’t die no more, daddies won’t say ‘bye’ no more, lie no more, industry’s bullets won’t fly no more.”
The Artist: Heath McNease
The Song: A Grief Observed
Encompassing Album: The Weight of Glory: Songs Inspired by the Works of C. S. Lewis
Why it matters: Heath McNease’s The Weight of Glory was the first album I ever (in an official capacity) gave a perfect score to, and there’s a very good reason. McNease managed to take the greatest author of the modern era’s works and so perfectly capture their essence. Jack (what C. S. Lewis’ friends and colleagues called him) wrote the book A Grief Observed after losing his wife Joy. A Grief Observed is one of the most brutally honest works penned by a believer after experiencing loss, and Heath captures the moment in somber brilliance.
The Artist: Becoming the Archetype
The Song: “Breathing Light”
Encompassing Album: Celestial Completion
Why it matters: I thought I would close this list out as I started it, with a metal heavyweight. “Breathing Light” is both the heaviest track in this list and the one that least has to do with individual death. “Breathing Light,” as the culmination of an album that tackles the same, deals with the fact that the Lord will bring the entire cosmos to order again in the final days. As such, though you probably won’t want to play this song at a funeral, it is perhaps the most eschatologically fitting of the list.
“The final chapter has already been written, the story has been told.”
Conclusion: So, that’s my soundtrack of anthems for overcoming the grave. Be sure to check out Living Sacrifice’s Ghost Thief, now available. Though “Sudden” didn’t get a spot on this list, it is certainly not due to lack of merit. Did I miss something you would add to this great list? Add it below in the comment’s section. And for anyone facing loss in life right now, remember:
“And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” (Excerpted from C. S. Lewis’ The Last Battle, in the chapter “Farewell to the Shadowlands”)