Guest Post: Translation Series #9: Embrace the Cross
This is a guest post from NewSoGoFan.
By the time Steve Green released The Mission in 1989, he was already an established force in the world of inspirational Christian music, with numerous hits such as “Proclaim the Glory of the Lord,” “He Holds the Keys,” “God and God Alone,” and “Find Us Faithful” to his credit. The title track of this album would go on to become another landmark song.
But the “sleeper hit” of the project was the quiet ballad “Embrace the Cross,” which later found its way onto Green’s recent Journey of Faith compilation CD/DVD (an excellent project, by the way, which can be purchased here). Unusually for Steve, it’s a gentle, reflective piece where the highest note he hits is delivered in an exquisite falsetto (rather than the sort of gloriously roof-raising power delivery customary for the “80s era Steve”). It begins with a simple Galatians 2:20 paraphrase featuring Michael Card as a guest vocalist, first acapella, then with instrumentation. This is repeated several times before going into the main body of the song, which is a meditation on what it means to be truly “crucified with Christ”:
Embrace the cross where Jesus suffered
Though it will cost all you claim as yours.
Your sacrifice will seem small beside the treasure
Eternity can’t measure
What Jesus holds in store.
The song has no chorus, but the lyrics only become more powerful as the song progresses, and the bridge forms a sort of quiet climax:
Oh wondrous cross, our desires rest in you.
Oh Lord Jesus, make us bolder
To face with courage the shame and disgrace
You bore upon your shoulder.
It goes on to end with the promise of life to come: “An empty tomb concludes Golgotha’s sorrow/Endure then ’til tomorrow/Your cross of suffering.” And, simply, it leaves with this: “Embrace the cross/Embrace the cross/The cross of Jesus”:
The song can be heard on YouTube here.
I’ve always loved this song, because it communicates a truth Christians need to hear, namely, the need for us to be willing to suffer. Sometimes we automatically think, “Jesus suffered so we don’t have to, right?” Wrong. As one hymn-writer put it, “No there’s a cross for everyone/And there’s a cross for me.”
When Daniel and I were discussing who might tackle this in a Southern Gospel setting, I said that it seemed to work best as a solo. But Daniel rightly pointed out that no soloist could ever do this justice without sounding like a pale imitation of Steve. It would have to be taken in an entirely different direction.
Daniel suggested a mixed trio, perhaps the kind of impromptu lineup Bill puts together for Homecomings. Immediately, my mind went back to a clip from “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” on the Rock of Ages Gaither DVD (here). The first verse is carried by a mixed trio composed of Reggie Smith, Charlotte Ritchie, and Joy Gardner. For three singers who generally don’t sing together, it’s a strikingly lovely blend. Eventually, we thought that this could work very well if Charlotte put it on one of her solo projects and brought in these two singers as guest vocalists. (Or perhaps Reggie and Ladye Love could furnish guest vocals.)
Of course the key would have to be lowered if this trio tackled the song. B flat could work well. Joy could start the introductory tag, then Charlotte could add a higher harmony, then Reggie could join in the for the final couple of repetitions. Then for the main part, Charlotte could carry the melody and sing the first verse as a solo. But the harmonies could be woven together for later verses, with alternating step-outs and perhaps some of the earlier lines done just as a male/female duet. For the bridge, I picture Charlotte singing most of the melody, perhaps briefly handing it to Reggie on the line “Oh Lord Jesus, make us bolder.” Then the harmonies on the conclusion would be lovely on the ears.
What do you all think? Could this work? Would it satisfy die-hard Steve fans as well as the average SG fan?