Rock & Rolling Stones Cleft for Me
Written by Dan Kim, Pastor of Gum Spring United Methodist Church.
They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. – 1 Corinthians 10:2-4
In 1987, Aretha Franklin was the first woman to be inducted in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Long overdue and unquestionably deserving of her place in the annals of Rock N’ Roll history, her Gospel-inspired sound, prodigious voice, and gift for music earned her 18 Grammy awards and 26 nominations. During her induction ceremony, of which she was unable to attend, Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones started his casually poetic induction speech with these words, “Dictionary’s been used up, there’s no superlatives left…What can I say about Aretha? You’re in baby!” Just before her retirement in 2016 and for a production by Time Magazine, she returned to perform inside New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit where her father served as pastor and her singing career began. To set the scene, the Queen of Soul sits at a relatively ordinary piano, in an ordinary church, singing just one song that lasts for six minutes. A singular yet timeless performance of an ordinary hymn. Of course, there was nothing ordinary about her or her performance, which belies the modest church setting. Afterwards she said, “I just felt it. In my spirit today.” She continued to say, “You have the ethereal feeling there. It is the house of the Lord. It is the Supreme Being. So there is no greater space to sing than the church.”
Better than any Lenten devotional I could offer, let me invite you to watch that performance in its entirety: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FUjJhHgix4M
See her play, hear her say, feel her pray; “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me.” And read the hymn written by Augustus Toplady. That would be devotional enough.
During the season of Lent, we are traditionally invited to see Christ in the empty spaces of our lives made apparent by the abstinence of typical but seemingly necessary consumables. Meat, coffee, social media; these are the ordinary things from which we commonly fast in our journey towards a deeper Lent. However, what if Lent can also be an invitation to see Christ in the ordinary? To see Christ in the everyday fullness of our lives? For the church in Corinth who struggled with enculturation, perhaps that is why Paul offers an argument against idolatry by spiritualizing food, drink, and this accompanying rock. The way Paul sees Christ in an ordinary rock from which God miraculously provides water for the Israelites could also be an invitation to see Christ in the ordinary things from which God provides spiritual quenching for us. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t see Christ on Facebook or Twitter all that often. But coffee? In the mornings? Absolutely, that’s my java with Jesus. For the liturgical nerds among us, what is Lent if not the intentional spiritualization of 40 days before Holy Week that would otherwise be “Ordinary Time”? What makes Lent lenten is precisely the invitation to experience the ordinary in intentionally consecrated ways. Music, reading, food, or a rock; these things can become extraordinary equipment from God that can help us along in our faith and not merely ordinary obstacles if we but avail ourselves to Christ who transforms water into wine, wine into blood, and blood into forgiveness.
Christ is accompanying you throughout this season. Maybe we be open to transformation. May we be ordinary vessels of an extraordinary God. I pray, “4 As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— 5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:4-6).