I heard a contemporary hymn on Sunday morning during the Eucharist and fell in love with the melody. It was the “Untitled Hymn (Come to Jesus)” by Chris Rice. It reminded me of Randy Newman’s music—a soft and gentle melody with simple lyrics that draws forth a deep emotional response. Unlike many contemporary praise songs that often seem quickly thrown together, Chris Rice’s lyrics are well crafted, with each verse building in a progression about a journey of faith with Jesus. Yet the theology is that of an intensely personal and private faith. It addresses a personal relationship with Jesus amid life’s struggles. The song begins with these words:

Weak and wounded sinner
Lost and left to die
O, raise your head for love is passing by
Come to Jesus
Come to Jesus
Come to Jesus and live

Other verses invite the listener to “cry to Jesus” in times of need and to “fall on Jesus” when we stumble.  The last verse is focused on an eternal destiny with Jesus in heaven with the refrain “fly to Jesus.”

And with your final heartbeat
Kiss the world goodbye
Then go in peace, and laugh on glory’s side
And fly to Jesus
Fly to Jesus
Fly to Jesus and live

(You can hear the complete song and read the lyrics at this link. A choral arrangement can be found here.)

Rice’s theology represents the traditional beliefs of many, many devoted Christians. Yet for me, the faith to which we are called is much more than this. In the gospels, Jesus calls us to a life of compassion and service to others, rather than a self-centered seeking of our own personal comfort and security. In his final days of life, German theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer declared that “the church is the church only when it exists for others . . . helping and serving.” All too often churches spend the majority of their resources simply serving themselves. And those that focus on charity and service are often afraid of dealing with the fundamental causes of suffering in the world—systems of economic and social injustice.

I wanted to see a new set of lyrics to Chris Rice’s song that would convey an alternative kind of faith—not about a Jesus who comforts us in pain and sorrow, but about a Jesus who challenges us to make a difference in the world. I awoke early Tuesday morning with new lyrics in my head and decided to put them on paper. Continue reading