Thomas McKenzie
by grace alone


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Pie Jesu

An Advent Meditation

2 Timothy 3 :1-5 (TNIV)
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.  People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

Last night I attended the Winter Concert at my elder daughter’s school.  We love her school and she is getting a fantastic education there.  It is the kind of place I wish I could have gone to (except it is only for girls, so that might have been awkward).  

It is a secular school, so I was not offended in the least that there were no Christmas songs. I was, however, struck by something.  One of the songs they performed was a version of Pie Jesu.  As a reminder, Pie Jesu is part of the Latin Requiem Mass.  It is typically sung as a prayer for the dead.  While it can be translated in a number of ways, the words essentially say “faithful/kind Lord Jesus, grant them rest.”  

There are a number of girls, including my daughter, who are studying Latin.  So at least some people at the concert knew what the words meant.  I am assuming, though, that this song was not selected because of its meaning.  In fact, it seemed strangely out of context for the event.  I would venture to say they would not have sung it in English!  So why was it selected?  Because it is a lovely setting and pleasing to listen to.  

I enjoyed listening to the song.  However, I felt somewhat unsettled.  Here is a prayer for the dead in Christ, many of whom are friends of mine, being sung simply for the pleasure of the audience.  It brought to mind Paul’s phrase “having a form of godliness but denying its power.” 

December is a month filled with such unsettling moments.  We will hear praises to Christ sung in the mall and on secular radio.  We will see images of Christ displayed on napkins.  We will see reference to the Mass of Christ (Christmas) used over and over in advertising.  Most of us will simply see or hear this and not register what is happening.  Our culture is taking one of the most blessed and beautiful events in cosmic history, the Incarnation of the Son of God, and using it for decoration.  Lexus is using the Lord of Glory to sell cars.

Of course, I could ignore all of this.  I could say that it is not big deal.  As an alternative, I could use this as a reason to be offended.  I could be that person who says “Merry CHRISTMAS” as an angry retort to someone else’s “Happy Holidays.”  But then wouldn’t I be one of those “without love” whom Paul warns about in our passage?  

Rather than either of those, I am asking God for the grace to respond differently.  When I see the name of Christ used in secular space this season, I want to do two things. First, I want to thank God that his name is going out to people who might otherwise not hear it.  What a strange wonder it would be if some non-Christian were to truly listen to “Silent Night” in Target and be transformed by the Holy Spirit!  Second, I want to register in my heart the beauty of Jesus.  When I hear “Hark the Herald” I want to have the grace to rejoice with the Angels, even if I am rejoicing at Old Navy.  

I’m glad those girls sang Pie Jesu.  Most of them probably weren’t intentionally praying those words, but I was.  May we all have such moments this Advent season.