It has long been our contention that Easter does not get the kind of attention it deserves. At least, when compared to another religious holiday like Christmas. Specifically, Easter-themed music feels like an afterthought a lot of the time. We think that is sad and unfortunate. Easter is the moment our faith became a reality – the specific moment in time when God defeated sin and death and made our redemption possible. It is a time of reverent contemplation and passionate celebration. So, as is our way, we have to chosen honor this season by highlighting five of our favorite Easter-themed songs. We hope you enjoy the list we put together.
♦ “I Will Rise” by Chris Tomlin
Chris Tomlin may need to leave old hymns alone or “stay in his lane” (I disagree with statements like this but I won’t fight about it), but I don’t think I can stand for people besmirching him over a song like this. This song isn’t a theological essay like many great hymns but the one point it makes is extremely important and it makes it well. Christ’s resurrection isn’t just an empirical fact in history; it means everything for us as far as what happens to our bodies and souls for eternity.
And it is rife with biblical phrases and allusions. Look at just a few from the very start:
There’s a peace I’ve come to know (Reminds me of John 16:33)
Though my heart and flesh may fail (Taken directly from Psalm 73:26 but also reminds me of Job 19:26 and 2 Corinthians 4:16)
There’s an anchor for my soul (Sounds like Hebrews 6:19)
I can say It Is Well (Not Scriptural as much as it was clearly taken from the H.G. Spafford hymn, which is entirely appropriate)
And as he gets to the chorus the number of citations or allusions to how Jesus beat death are multiplied. No, this song isn’t as deep or complex as 1 Corinthians 15’s take on the resurrection. Clearly, this theme can fill thousands of pages of doctrinal discussion. But we rejoice in the mere fact that resurrection wasn’t a one-time isolated event for one man, but the firstfruit of the resurrection of everyone who trusts in that man. I have played this song overlaying an iMovie of Scriptural references, many of them above, the last three times I have preached at Easter at my church–2009, 2013, and 2017. I cannot say enough about how much it floods my heart with the joy and hope of what matters most—how the Bible answers the problem of the vilest, most despicable, unforgivable villain there is: Death. Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. – Gowdy Cannon
♦ “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” by Charles Wesley
“Christ the Lord” was written by Charles Wesley, brother of John Wesley and 17 other siblings.
Interestingly, Charles and John didn’t enter into a personal relationship with Jesus until right after they finished serving as missionaries to Georgia. On the boat ride back home to England, they met a Moravian constituent. Once back in London, he introduced the Wesleys to fellow Moravians who led them to Christ. From them, they learned what it really meant to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Wesley’s conversion experience took place in 1738 and he wrote this hymn almost exactly one year later. It was written and played as one of the first hymns of the brothers newly founded Wesleyan Chapel in London. This was just the beginning of his hymn-writing career. He would go on to write well over 6,000 more hymns. I have not read or sung all of these songs but I have heard that many of them are mediocre at best. But those that are great are considered the best of the best in all of hymnology (many consider his “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” the most theologically rich Christmas song). And “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” is one of the most theologically rich Easter songs. It has certainly been one of the most popular Easter songs since it was first published in 1739.
Christianity celebrates the entry into new life by dying and that new life through the death and resurrection of Jesus is what this hymn clearly celebrates. It is via our acceptance of this sacrifice that we truly live. I Corinthians 15:19 tells us that if this life alone is all that we can expect, we are of all men most pitiable. But for Christians, it isn’t all we expect. We have a hope of life with Christ after we die. That is why we can confidently say, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55). This truth is at the very center of Christianity. That Jesus died and rose again so that we too may die and rise again into everlasting life with Him.
The first three stanzas of this song remind us that Jesus rose three days after His death, rose to heaven to reign as a glorious king, finalized his work of redeeming grace, and opened paradise for all. But the song also reminds us that this was not just something that happened and finished up over 2000 years ago. The fourth stanza is clear that this is still true for us and that we have reason to sing praises to God above for His great work of love all the world. He, all three persons of the Godhead, did this for us. The last two lines finalize: “Praise Him, all ye heavenly host, alleluia! Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” – Ben Plunkett
♦ “Grave Robber” by Petra
This is not an Easter song. It is a song about what Easter made possible. One thing that Petra (mainly Bob Hartman writing the lyrics) excelled at was incorporating Scripture into their songs. This one is filled with allusions, direct quotes, and paraphrasing. This song, more than almost any I have heard, is entirely focused on the hope the resurrection of Jesus brings to believers. The lyrics are powerful, encouraging, and triumphant. As the chorus of the song so aptly states:
Where is the sting, tell me where is the bite
When the grave robber comes like a thief in the night
Where is the victory, where is the prize
When the grave robber comes
And death finally dies
In the here and now, we still struggle and fight with death, but one day, death will be no more. Death will finally die. That is our great hope, provided to us by the death and resurrection of our Lord. This classic song, by the preeminent Christian rock band of the 1980s, is the perfect reminder of this truth. For my money, few songs can match it in melody, structure, sound, and message. Every year around Easter, this song makes its way into my music rotation and I never regret it. It moves me every time I hear it. I hope it will move you as well even if the style is not your preference. Focus on the lyrics and the truth they convey. One day, the Grave Robber will “wipe away our tears – He will steal away our fears. There will be no sad tomorrow – there will be no pain and sorrow.” That is a truth worth singing about. – Phill Lytle
♦ “Remember Me” by Ben Shive (Performed by Andrew Peterson)
I’ve been listening to Andrew Peterson’s music a lot lately, especially his latest album Resurrection Letters: Volume I, released just in time for Easter last year. I heartily recommend the entire album (along with the Resurrection Letters, Prologue EP and the Resurrection Letters, Volume II album released 10 years prior1), but I am supposed to write about just one song.
I strongly considered the modern congregational hymn “Is He Worthy?” (which Chris Tomlin borrowed for his latest album Holy Roar) and my personal favorite “His Heart Beats” which focuses on the actual moment of Jesus’s resurrection. In the end, I chose “Remember Me”.
“Remember Me” was written by Ben Shive (with whom Andrew Peterson collaborated on all of the Resurrection Letters albums) who, in his words, “wrote these songs [“Remember Me” and “Into Your Hands”] to help myself and the folks at my church remember Jesus this Good Friday.”2 I love that this song wasn’t written primarily to be published and recorded (though I’m glad it was) but was written by someone to help himself and his fellow church folk to remember Jesus.
I chose this song mainly because the lyrics cover the full story and meaning of Easter from our part as “wayward sons” and “prodigal daughters” in need of a redeemer to “ascend that hill” for us, through the story of Jesus during his last week from triumphal entry “as a King” to death on the cross to resurrection, to the resulting hope we have of our eternal life with our Lord when Jesus returns.
Secondarily, I chose the song because of the groovy pop tune atypical in Easter songs. It’s refreshing. – Nathan Patton
♦ “Arise My Love” by NewSong
I love a good power ballad. I love Easter Sunday. Put them both together, and you get “Arise My Love”.
It is, formulaically, every bit 80s power ballad. A slow build, synth, echoey drums, it’s all there. Stryper could have done this song, and they would have killed it. If they added in a screaming guitar solo, it would be icing on the cake. (I’m still holding out for a Stryper cover BTW).
But this song is so much more than just an epic build. This song is a freight train of theologically sound emotion that is focused on the most victorious moment that humanity has ever witnessed. When you listen to this song, you get the sense that all of creation, all of Heaven and Hell, has been moved to contemplative silence at the tomb. Then you get to the chorus, the airy, heavenly “Arise, My Love! The grave no longer has a hold on you! No more death’s sting, no more suffering! Arise! Arise, My Love!”
I cry every time I hear it. I’m tearing up right now as I write this. It takes a lot to move me to this kind of emotion, but this song captures that most epic moment of all time so very well. Jesus is blazingly glorious, and this song gives just a tiny, minuscule glimpse into that reality.
“Sin, where are your shackles? Death, where is your sting? Hell has been defeated! The grave could not hold The King!” – D.A. Speer
Hopefully, a few of your favorites were included in our list. We welcome you to share some of your favorites with us in the comment section. Let’s celebrate, through music and song, the resurrection of our Lord together.