7 April 2007

The tomb, the Resurrection, and the rock stars

As i sat about earlier today, doing some work, I had the computer playing track on random. Rather by coincidence, a couple of songs from U2’s Pop came on. Now Pop is the album that you only own (especially since it’s been 10 years since it was released) if you are dedicated to U2. Pop was the nadir of U2 and 1990s irony. After they “went away and made it all up again” in the early 1990s with Achtung Baby (which is certainly among the greatest rock albums of all time), they descended further and further into irony, jadedness, sarcasm, and darkness. The shows became bigger and bigger, full of production and bubble gum. They shamelessly celebrated commercialism and shallowness and repudiated earnestness and sincerity.

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Now, if you’re not in the know, this is Holy (Great) Saturday, and this is the day when we commemorate Jesus time in the tomb. When I was a boy, I remember that the churches and schools that I attended weren’t entirely sure what to do with the whole Tridduum (the three day period in which most Christians commemorate Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter). Easter sort of made sense, as it was about the Resurrection; we knew to be extra happy that day, because it was the key to all other days. But we weren’t a liturgical people, and we knew that Thursday and Friday were significant, but we just didn’t quite know what to do with them. Some of us read the gospel stories of the Passion, some of us tried to imagine what was happening at the various hours of the day, some of us tried to be a little quieter.

But today is even weirder. Even for those of us who celebrate the totality of the Triduum, with Thursday’s washing of the feet and final Eucharist, Friday’s veneration of the cross and the reading of John’s Passion before received the reserved Eucharist, and the Great Vigil with its light and stories and water and joy, Saturday sits awkwardly in the middle. Jesus is in the tomb. Everything stopped for his followers because they thought it was all over. Virtually everything stops for us. A small liturgy. No Eucharist. Just the quiet of the dead and the grave. The chaos and confusion of Friday are done and gone. The flashiness has ended with at best a whimper against death’s finality. In the end, death consumes us all.

At the end of U2’s project of irony, pastiche, commodification, and noise, we hear the following song, one of the random tracks to come up on my player today. Addressed to the dead Jesus, I’ve seen it as a challenge, a recognition, and a resignation. At the end of everything, death swallows up all endeavors. Irony, of course, is dead, but so is everything else. All the artifice that U2 has created just doesn’t really matter; Bono’s going to die, the music’s going to die, and silence it the only available response.

“Wake Up, Dead Man”

Jesus, Jesus help me
I’m alone in this world
And a fucked up world it is too
Tell me, tell me the story
The one about eternity
And the way it’s all gonna be

Wake up, wake up dead man
Wake up, wake up dead man

Jesus, I’m waiting here boss
I know you’re looking out for us
But maybe your hands aren’t free
Your father, he made the world in seven
He’s in charge of Heaven
Will you put a word in for me

Wake up, wake up dead man
Wake up, wake up dead man…

…Jesus, were you just around the corner
Did you think to try and warn her
Or are you working on something new
Is there an order in all of this disorder
Is it like a tape recorder
Can we rewind it just once more

Wake up, wake up dead man
Wake up, wake up dead man
Wake up, wake up dead man

And this is the last song we hear from U2 for three years. But the very next song to come from them sounds like a 21st century rock Exsultet. (For some reason, one of my favorite lines in the Exsultet addresses the bees. Yes, bees. Buzz, buzz. “Therefore, heavenly Father, in this our Easter joy accept our sacrifice of praise, your Church’s solemn offering, this wax, the work of bees and the hands of your ministers. Glory to you for ever. As we gaze upon the splendour of this flame fed by the melting wax conceived by mother bee, grant that this Easter Candle may make our darkness light.”)

“Beautiful day”

The heart is a bloom
Shoots up through the stony ground
But there’s no room
No space to rent in this town
You’re out of luck
And the reason that you had to care
The traffic is stuck
And you’re not moving anywhere
You thought you’d found a friend
To take you out of this place
Someone you could lend a hand
In return for grace

It’s a beautiful day
The sky falls and you feel like
It’s a beautiful day
Don’t let it get away
It’s a beautiful day
Don’t let it get away…

It’s a beautiful day
Touch me
Take me to that other place
Teach me
I know I’m not a hopeless case

See the world in green and blue
See China right in front of you
See the canyons broken by clouds
See the tuna fleets clearing the sea out
See the Bedouin fires at night
See the oil fields at first light and
See the bird with a leaf in her mouth
After the flood all the colors came out

Day, day
It was a beautiful day
Don’t let it get away
Beautiful day

Day, day
Touch me
Take me to that other place
Reach me
I know I’m not a hopeless case
What you don’t have you don’t need it now
What you don’t know you can feel it somehow
What you don’t have you don’t need it now
Don’t need it now

It was a beautiful day
Day

It seems to me that those last two groups of verse exactly describe the world after resurrection. No needs, just life and understanding and joy.

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