The Ancient Roots of Modern Worship

Contemporary getting old? Well, certainly for some people this may be true. But there is another sense it which it is true for everyone. Contemporary music is increasingly tapping into the ancient history of worship to recover lyrics and thoughts that move beyond the “dating Jesus” lyrics of earlier decades.

The exciting song of both Christ’s resurrection and our spiritual rebirth by Matt Maher and Mia Fields, “Christ Is Risen,” reflects Maher’s deep roots in the classic liturgy of worship. The song begins:

Christ is risen from the dead; Trampling over death by death!

At the Easter seasons, both Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic churches join in singing Christos Anesti (Christ is risen). The ancient song, with lyrics still rooted in the Koine Greek of the earliest centuries of the church, begins:

Χριστ?ς ?ν?στη ?κ νεκρ?ν; θαν?τ? θ?νατον πατ?σας!
Christ is risen from the dead; By death (is) death trampled!

From here Maher and Field turn the song in what some have found to be an unexpected direction:

Come awake come awake
Come and rise up from the grave
Christ is risen from the dead
We are one with Him again
Come awake come awake
Come and rise up from the grave

One person asked me, after singing this in worship, if we were trying to call Christ to wake up from the grave. I admitted this would make the song a little awkward. But the lyrics make it clear, however, when asserting “we are one with Him again,” the awakening called for is not His but ours. As Paul urges his readers in Ephesians: “Arise, sleeper, and rise from the dead! Let the light of Christ shine upon you.”

Matt Maher is one of a number of musicians increasingly bridging the divide between Roman Catholic and contemporary Evangelical worship. He has received numerous awards from the United Catholic Music and Video Association since his first album, The End, which was released in 2002. In Alive Again, he joins together with well-known contemporary worship performers like Matt Redman, Chris Tomlin and Mia Fields.

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Don Chapman
Arranger/composer Don Chapman is the creative energy behind several websites devoted to contemporary worship: HymnCharts, WorshipFlow, and WorshipIdeas.com. He's the editor of the weekly WorshipIdeas newsletter that is read by over 50,000 worship leaders across the world.