A place in heaven

Katrina DowlingMusicLeave a Comment

I expected it to be unsure. The song starts with a question: “Do I have a place in heaven?” We’re singing it on Good Friday. I expected it to leave us hanging.

I was thinking more of blues than gospel, though. Because it is drawn from blues (as well as from spirituals), gospel recognises all the pain of life. But as Audrey Thompson puts it, “when the sound of blues… fuses with the hope of Jesus Christ, there is what blacks understand as “gospel.” Gospel, then, carries the sense that hope and pain cannot be separated.”[1]

We decided to sing “A place in heaven” on that day, thinking of the thief on the cross. That day the culmination of a crescendo of bad news, and surely he had no expectation of encountering good news in the midst of a painful and disgraceful execution. We could have chosen a music, such as blues, that leaves us hanging there in that present. But “the sound of gospel announces to the present that one is never left alone with the blues… it is the announcement, the sound of “good news,” that lifts the soul from pain to hope.”[2] On Good Friday we strip away the sound of all the instruments that gladden us, as a way of meeting the mourning and desolation of the moment. But in the singing of this gospel song, each breath remembers hope.

Francesco Allegrini attrib Christ Crucified with the Good Thief 1615-20

Do I have a place in heaven
where Jesus is the king
Do I have a place in heaven
where Jesus is the king
Oh my Lord you are my saviour, my king, and my Lord.
Oh my Lord you are my saviour, my king, and my Lord.

I can hear the angels in heaven
all singing Hallelujah
I can hear the angels in heaven
all singing Hallelujah
Oh my Lord you are my saviour, my king, and my Lord.
Oh my Lord you are my saviour, my king, and my Lord.

I can see the beautiful city
that God has promised me
I can see the beautiful city
that God has promised me
(Oh my Lord) Oh my Lord
(Oh my Lord) You are my saviour, my king, and my Lord.
(Oh my Lord) Oh my Lord
(Oh my Lord) You are my saviour, my king, and my Lord.

[1] Audrey D. Thompson, “’Til Earth and Heaven Ring: A Theological Theory of the Sense of Sound in the Black Preaching Event of the Word” (PhD diss., Princeton Theological Seminary, 2010), 91.

[2] Thompson, “’Til Earth and Heaven Ring,” 94.

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