Bruce Springsteen and his Seeger Sessions Band kicked off their tour on April 30, 2006 at the New Orleans Jazz Fest, with a stirring version of Oh Mary Don’t You Weep. It was a mere eight months after Katrina had devastated the city and, in a performance hailed by a local critic as the most emotional musical experience of her life, Springsteen sought to inject some hope into the city with his collection of spirituals and roots songs.
This opening song is an old spiritual, a slave song, that heralds the theme of liberation and new beginnings. The recurring phrase “Pharoah’s army got drown-ded” recalls the Old Testament story of the children of Israel escaping slavery in Egypt in the Exodus. This was a story that had captured the imagination of people who were enslaved or disenfranchised (it was an important song during the Civil Rights movement). Black slaves resisted the bondage they suffered in a whole range of ways.
One of these was the sort of religion they developed, a Christianity that was not just that of their masters. Theirs was a faith where freedom and liberation were vigorously affirmed and one where black humanity was affirmed, despite everything that slavery and white people said. The songs sung were often coded messages of hope and resistance. Their God was the God of history, who works and intervenes in our world to bring change and transformation. A God who brings life from the dead.
The other recurring phrase in the song is “Oh Mary don’t you weep, don’t you mourn,” which for me refers to Mary Magdalene, who stood weeping at the tomb of Jesus that first Easter morning. She had lost her friend and his body was nowhere to be found. Her weeping and mourning is dispelled, however, by meeting someone she thought was the gardener, but who turned out to be Jesus, risen from the dead. It’s remarkable, that in a world where a woman’s testimony was thought unreliable and not viable in a courtroom, the gospel writers were willing to record the women as the first witnesses of the resurrection – not something you’d do, if you were trying to pass off a story.
The resurrection is right at the heart of Easter, and at the heart of Christian faith. In fact, there’s no point in faith at all, if it’s not. If it didn’t happen, as Paul, Christianity’s first exponent and himself a witness of a risen Jesus, said, then, we might as well just eat, drink and be merry. Christian faith doesn’t make any sense without the resurrection.
But with it, suddenly there are possibilities. Christian faith says that, because Jesus is risen, there is to be a new creation – the evil and the injustice we see in our world is not the last word. Pharaoh’s army got drown-ded all right; the challenge is to find the promised land, to be people who bring life from the deadness around us by living out, and seeking the love, peace and justice of, God’s new creation right now.
Finally, here’s Kenny Meeks’s great Easter song, which draws out the personal hope of Easter, which stretches beyond this life.