Have you noticed that Easter music gets far less attention than Christmas music? We even have a special name for certain Christmas songs. We call them “carols,” which technically is a term for any song of joy or celebration. It would be perfectly OK to refer to songs like “Up From the Grave He Arose” as an Easter carol, but for some reason we don’t.
Perhaps Christmas music is more popular because the songs of the season are so closely tied to the sentimental way we celebrate the holiday. Who hasn’t felt a lump in his throat when he hears Bing Crosby croon “I’ll be Home for Christmas,” or Nat King Cole sing “The Christmas Song?” (Commonly referred to as “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”)
But there is no Easter equivalent to those songs, nor could there be, because there is no sentimentality in betrayal, torture, and death. There is no sweetness in singing about the bloody reality of the most unjust execution in history.
You see, Easter is a celebration that only Christians can really appreciate. Only the redeemed have a reason to sing My richest gain I count but loss/And pour contempt on all my pride (“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”).
It is only those who have been touched by the grace of Christ who can who can see beyond the corruption of religious leaders, the beating and the torture, the crown of thorns and the cross, and begin to fathom the mercy of the One who planned the whole thing from the beginning of time as the only way to eternally save those who deserve it least.
Maybe that’s why we don’t hear “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” being played on the public address system at the mall.
Below I offer my Top 10 Easter songs. It’s a list for Christians. There’s no sweetness, nostalgia, or sentimentality here, rather words and music that humbly express that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus was the sovereign plan of our gracious God, motivated by love for the sake of sinners like me.
Click on the title if you want to hear my favorite versions of these songs. And if you’re so inclined, add your own to the list in the comments section.
A Latin text from the Middle Ages, often attributed to Bernard of Claivaux or Arnulf of Leuven:
What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.
Written by Isaac Watts
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
Written by Thomas Kelly (1804)
Here we have a firm foundation,
Here the refuge of the lost.
Christ the Rock of our salvation,
Christ the Name of which we boast.
Written by Keith Getty, Kristyn Getty and Stuart Townend
Behold the Lamb who bears our sins away,
Slain for us - and we remember
The promise made that all who come in faith
Find forgiveness at the cross.
CityAlight is a musical project of St. Paul’s Castle Hill in Sydney, Australia. Chords, music charts, and lyrics are availablehere.
Written by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend
Oh, to see my name
Written in the wounds,
For through Your suffering I am free.
Death is crushed to death;
Life is mine to live,
Won through Your selfless love.
Written by Steve and Vikki Cook
I will glory in my Redeemer
Who crushed the power of sin and death
My only Savior before the holy Judge
The Lamb who is my righteousness
Written by Stuart Townend
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished;
His dying breath has brought me life -
I know that it is finished.
Written by Keith Getty, Kristyn Getty, and Ed Cash
How can it be, the One who died,
Has borne our sin through sacrifice
To conquer every sting of death?
Sing, sing hallelujah.
Words and music by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend
See God’s salvation plan,
Wrought in love, borne in pain, paid in sacrifice,
Fulfilled in Christ, the Man,
For He lives: Christ is risen from the dead!