Resurrection Letters: A Review

Stop what you’re doing, and go listen to Andrew Peterson’s new album, Resurrection Letters: Volume I. Right now. Seriously, I’ll wait. Come back in 39 minutes when you’re done. If you need a Youtube link, here you go. Or Spotify. Or Apple Music.

Finished? Okay, now let’s talk about how awesome it is.

It’s taken Andrew Peterson his entire career to bring us Resurrection Letters: Volume I. In fact, it’s been ten years since Resurrection Letters: Volume II was released. That’s right, Volume II came out first, a sort of musical Star Wars Episode IV. Ten years ago, Andrew created an album focused on the impact of Jesus’ resurrection in our lives, and mischievously titled it Resurrection Letters: Volume II, with the plan of eventually coming back to do another album focused on the resurrection itself. Ten years, four albums, and several books later, we finally have Volume I. And, in a surprise twist that made every Andrew Peterson fan swoon with glee, we also got a bonus: Resurrection Letters: Prologue, which was released a few weeks before Volume I, with five songs focusing on the sorrow and pain of Good Friday.

A brief aside as to why this album is so important to me: on more than one occasion, Andrew Peterson’s music has literally saved my life. His songs of hope and homesickness have sustained me through the darkest nights of my soul. Songs like “After the Last Tear Falls,” “No More Faith,” and “The Dark Before the Dawn” have been lifelines in the deepest caves of depression, candles in the dark where no other light would penetrate. When all around my soul gave way, the music of Andrew Peterson was life-sustaining, saving grace. I hope I get to thank him in person one day, before we meet in the New Jerusalem.

In many ways, Resurrection Letters: Volume I feels like where Andrew’s musical career has been aiming ever since his debut album, Carried Along, in 1995. For over two decades, Andrew has leveraged his gift of wordsmithing to stir up longings for “a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16). His music captures what I call “happy homesickness,” a bittersweet and brokenhearted joy that aches for the promise of home. It’s an echo that runs through all his songs, increasingly so in the past few years of his own struggle with depression– captured poignantly in 2015’s The Burning Edge of Dawn. Coming after those dark years, Resurrection Letters feels vaguely autobiographical. Prologue enters into the suffering of Good Friday with the voice of one who has himself suffered, which makes the first notes of Volume I feel like the stone rolling away from Andrew’s heart as well. My own journey has mirrored Andrew’s, which makes Volume I a milestone in my walk with Christ, an Ebenezer raised to mark how far I’ve come and how far there is still to go.

There are many good ways to enjoy these albums, but I think the best way is to experience Prologue, Volume I, and Volume II in one extended session. Find a comfortable chair and a good pair of headphones and listen through all three albums, which form one cohesive whole, both musically and thematically. It will be an hour and forty two minutes well spent.

51rbr0btxzl-_ss500Resurrection Letters: Prologue

I believe that there is a universal spiritual law that governs the celebration of Easter: the deeper you go into the sorrows of Good Friday, the higher your joys on Easter will be. Prologue lingers for a brief 19 minutes on the agonies of the crucifixion, but what it lacks in length it makes up for in beauty. The opening song, “Last Words,” weaves the seven sayings of Jesus on the cross into the most haunting and complicated musical round I’ve ever heard. “Well Done, Good and Faithful” is an adaptation of Isaac Watt’s hymn based on Psalm 22 (which pairs nicely with the Psalm 24-derived “Remember Me” in Volume I). “The Ninth Hour” is a short instrumental interlude, lingering after the closing line of “Well Done,” with mournful strings that rise into a hopeful crescendo before fading out into darkness. “Always Good” was written for a friend who lost his wife, and the terrible pain and tenacious hope of cruciform loss shines through every note. The final track of Prologue, “God Rested,” is my favorite on the EP. It’s built on a brilliant biblical insight: in Genesis 2, God rested on the seventh day when he had finished all his work, and so did Christ when he had finished his work on the cross. This turns the despair of the cross on its head; Jesus’ body in the tomb is not an emblem of defeat but of victory. His work is done, salvation is accomplished, and now he is enjoying his Sabbath rest– Saturday’s holy silence before Sunday’s shout of victory. In the last verse, the song rises into a musical and lyrical cliffhanger: “The sun went down / the Sabbath faded / the holy day was done and all creation waited…” and then fades away, leaving the listener leaning in expectantly, waiting for the coming resolution.

https3a2f2fimages-genius-com2fb75a7c761db523835f49f703ee778813-1000x1000x1Resurrection Letters: Volume I

His Heart Beats: That resolution comes with the first percussive “heart beat” of Volume I (which is why these albums are best enjoyed as one cohesive whole). The driving rhythm and Andrew’s deep baritone (I didn’t know he could sing that low) bring an electricity of emotion to the joyful poetry:

His heart beats
His blood begins to flow
Waking up what was dead a moment ago
And his heart beats
Now everything is changed
‘Cause the blood that brought us peace with God
Is racing through his veins

The rest of the song pounds with biblical phrases and images: “The Lamb of God once slain for us / is a Lion ready to roar.” “He rises, glorified in flesh / clothed in immortality, the firstborn from the dead.” “His heart beats, He’ll never die again / I know that death no longer has dominion over him.” Has any better Easter song been written since Charles Wesley’s “Christ the Lord is Risen Today?” I think not.

Risen Indeed: One of Andrew’s favorite resurrection motifs through many of his albums is the winter-to-spring transition in which nature brings life out of deadness, a rehearsal and preview of its own coming resurrection at the end of the age. Andrew takes this metaphor to new heights in “Risen Indeed,” weaving the changing seasons together with biblical imagery to produce a powerful gospel invitation:

And now the flowers bloom like a song of freedom
Behold the earth is new, if only for this season
And so the seed that died for you becomes the seedling
Just put your hand into the wound that bought your healing

The playful piano and chimes and joyful music skip merrily through the stanzas, a musical version of Mary running to bring the glad news to the disciples. Andrew Peterson has always been a master at matching music to lyrics, and this song takes that skill to a whole new level.

Remember Me: With a tight, crisp drum line and a rapid fire, Josh Garrels-like groove, we find Andrew Peterson here coming closer than he ever has to rapping. (Now I want to see an Andrew Peterson rap album… can we make this happen?) Lyrically, the song fuses the hopeful plea of the thief on the cross– “Remember me when you come into your kingdom” with the theological depth of Psalm 24’s Easter foreshadowing. All in all, a powerful gospel presentation.

The final verse, however, is what grabs my heart and shakes me with new hope:

The Son will stand on the mount again‬
‪With an army of angels at His command‬
‪And the earth will split like the hull of a seed‬
‪Wherever Jesus plants His feet‬
‪And up from the earth, the dead will rise‬
‪Like spring trees robed in petals of white‬
‪Singing the song of the radiant bride‬

Can you feel all creation longing for that day? Singing along with these lines, I do! Oh Lord, come soon!

I’ve Seen Too Much: Okay, I’ll be honest. This is my least favorite song on the album.  Not because it’s not a wonderful, catchy tune with profound, thought-provoking lyrics, but because when you’re surrounded by such excellence, even “pretty awesome” is mediocre by comparison. On this album, “bottom of the barrel” is still better than almost anything else out there. 9/10 stars.

Remember and Proclaim: How I love this song! The multiple, bouncing guitars remind me of vintage, Clear To Venus-era Andrew Peterson, or perhaps Caedmon’s Call at their best. This celebratory communion hymn captures what is probably– at least in my experience– the most neglected aspect of the Lord’s Supper: its future orientation. In this meal, we “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes,” and anticipate the future wedding feast of the Lamb where everything sad will come untrue. One line in particular makes me want to break bread, pour the wine, and jump for joy all at the same time (not recommended if you’re clumsy): “This feast it is a battle that we wage against the night / and this joy is just a shadow of the resurrection / of the resurrection light!”

Maybe Next YearHere the album takes an autobiographical turn, and we’re treated to a meditation born out of Andrew’s trip to Israel. The brilliance of this song is how it combines a line from the traditional Jewish Passover liturgy which anticipates the end of exile– “Next year in Jerusalem!”– with Passover’s new covenant already/not yet fulfillment:

In that city that we long for, though it feels so far away,
Where the dawn will drive away our tears,
We’ll meet in the New Jerusalem someday;
Maybe next year

The music is somehow simultaneously melancholy and merry (is that a harmonica in the background, or an accordion?), and the shift from verse to chorus seems engineered to squeeze happy tears from my eyes. Next year in the New Jerusalem!

Rise Up: One of the things I love about Resurrection Letters: Volume I is its musical diversity. Every song is authentic, acoustic Andrew Peterson, and yet this album seems to cover much more musical landscape than his previous works. The driving rhythm of “His Heart Beats” and the almost-rap of “Remember Me” prepare me for the bait-and-switch that is “Rise Up.” What starts off as a mellow, single-chord sad piano abruptly escalates halfway through the song into an anthem that would feel at home on a Queen album. Ben Shive, the album’s producer, must be some kind of mad scientist or wizard. Because, man, it works.

Is He Worthy: Here we find Andrew venturing into congregational worship, and it makes me want to go back to my liturgical roots, or at least plant some of those liturgical roots in my current non-denominational church. This is far and away the most beautiful song on the album, and possibly the most beautiful song Andrew Peterson has ever written. It harkens back to some of the musical themes in Prologue’s “The Ninth Hour,” reminding us that Jesus is worthy of honor precisely because he suffered the humiliation of death on the cross.

The song is structured as a congregational call-and-response, a liturgy of resurrection:

Do you feel the world is broken?
We do.
Do you feel the shadows deepen?
We do.
But do you know that all the dark won’t stop the light from getting through?
We do.
Do you wish that you could see it all made new?
We do.

Is all creation groaning?
It is.
Is a new creation coming?
It is.
Is the glory of the Lord to be the light within our midst?
It is.
Is it good that we remind ourselves of this?
It is.

This is a catechism of new creation that I intend to immerse myself in for the rest of my days, until I see with my own eyes this culmination of Easter, and join the chorus of Revelation 5, “Is He worthy? He is!”

All Things TogetherThe final song on Resurrection Letters: Volume I puts the triumphant Christology of Colossians 1:15-20 to music. But the best thing here (besides its Scriptural content), are the subtle musical references to Volume II that are scattered throughout the song like Easter eggs for longtime Andrew Peterson fans. In fact, in a cool feat of time-traveling trickery, “All Things Together” flows seamlessly into the first track of the ten-year-old Volume II, “All Things New” (yet another reason why Resurrection Letters is best enjoyed as a cohesive whole).

Speaking of Volume II

516eggfj-nlResurrection Letters: Volume II

I have to confess, until recently (like, until this week), Volume II was my least favorite Andrew Peterson album. It wasn’t that the songs were bad; it was just that they felt random and thematically scattered.

But now that I’ve read N.T. Wright’s Surprised By Hope (which, according to Andrew, inspired Volume II), and have experienced Prologue and Volume I, I finally understand what Andrew was doing ten years ago. These songs are the overflow of resurrection, the spillover effect of Easter as the new creation bursts out of the tomb and starts, little by little, making all things new.

This means that “All Things New” isn’t just the first track on the album; it’s the crucial hinge between Volume I and Volume II, the great “therefore” between the gospel indicatives of Easter and the gospel imperatives of the Christian life. The repeated refrain “Rise up, O you sleeper, awake,” is an invitation into new creation that began with the first heartbeat inside the garden tomb and will be consummated when the garden city descends to earth. “He makes all things new” is an eschatological reality that begins now for the people of God. Joined to the risen Christ, we are the new creation in the here and now (2 Corinthians 5:17).

The rest of the album then explores the tensions inherent in being new creations who are still enfleshed in the old creation. “Hosanna‘s” haunting opening line, “I am tangled up in contradictions / I am strangled by my own two hands” is the anguished wrestling of Romans 6-8; made new already, but not fully new yet. Songs like “Invisible God,” “Rocket,” and “Windows in the World” explore a world where eternity is bleeding through the page, seeping through the cracks and gleaming with the promise of what will soon be. This is what life looks like in a world where resurrection has happened; the dam has broken, living water is on the loose, and soon everything sad will be swept away.

This, at the end of the day, is the beauty and brilliance of the Resurrection Letters trilogy: it pulls resurrection forward out of history and backwards out of eschatology and returns it to where the biblical authors placed it: the present. Because Easter wasn’t just something that happened to Jesus; he is the “firstfruits” of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20), the proof that the whole harvest is coming. He is not a one-off supernatural event in history; he is the first domino in a chain reaction that will remake the universe. This means that Easter is happening to us now, as the seed of the new creation germinates in our hearts; and Easter will happen to us soon, when he calls us from the dust and we burst forth in full bloom to reign in glory alongside him. In this way, Resurrection Letters is a preview of coming attractions, a sneak peak of the glory and life that escaped from the tomb and is on the loose in the world today, making all things new one person at a time. And one day the Lamb who was slain will return as a Lion to reign, and “the last enemy will be destroyed” (1 Corinthians 15:26). This is the good news of Resurrection Letters: in the end, Easter comes for you.

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