Pop Songs about Jesus: Lent Edition

Pop Songs about Jesus: Lent Edition April 5, 2022

Guest post by Rev. Jonathan Evens.    

For over 50 years, pop musicians in all genres have explored the meaning and significance of Jesus in their music. The result is a rich collection of songs that consider important spiritual questions like faith, doubt, and prayer in unique and often provocative ways.

Delvyn Case and I have recently been in conversation in a short series for HeartEdge to try to mine this rich resource to share rock and pop music for Lent, Easter and Christmas. We both have a deep interest in the ways faith is expressed in and through pop music in all its many guises. So, in this series we attempted to tap our differing interests and knowledge by choosing four songs for each festival we discussed. In this post I’d like to share 4 songs we chose for Lent.

Julie Miller’s BY WAY OF SORROW

Julie Miller (from Rhapsody) has been described ‘as the most breathlessly idiosyncratic spiritual-sensualist this side of Victoria Williams.’ Like her friend Williams, Miller is one of the few songwriters who has effectively balanced adult themes with the Christian mandate to become like children in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. She’s a singer-songwriter who has weathered considerable struggles; a brother who died in a freakish lightning accident, a friend to suicide not long after, and her own long-persisting pain and fatigue from fibromyalgia, which often prevents her from performing and working. Out of her pain, Julie Miller writes the most transparent and transformative songs, ‘By Way of Sorrow’ being one of those.


Lent is about journeying through pain and limitation, whether following Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness and his Passion or giving up something for the season to focus more on prayer. The song is about making that kind of journey. I wonder who it is that is making the journey described in the song? It could be a song about Jesus or a song about us, or both. Within the song there is, I think, a balance between the difficulty of the journey and the joy of arrival that may be similar to that which is found within Psalm 23.

Roxy Music’s PSALM

Our second choice was also a Psalm, only this time it’s Roxy Music’s ‘Psalm’ from the album ‘Stranded.’ This is a song that feels sermon-like in structure and in sound and which is written as a form of testimony with a movement in understanding that goes from trying God out to standing by his gate and on to knowing you’ll be heard by him. Like the Julie Miller song, it’s a song in which we are taken on a journey, although in this case it seems to be a journey towards God rather than a journey through sorrow. Whatever our Lenten journey, our aim is to come close to and encounter God. Somewhat surprisingly for a band like Roxy Music, this song takes us on that journey.


This excellent song-by-song analysis of the lyrics and music of Roxy Music points out that there was a lot of God-rock around at the time this song was written recorded including songs by George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Talking Heads, Talk Talk and Tom Waits, among others. In the light of that fact, perhaps it’s not so surprising to find Roxy Music recording a Psalm. It’s also of interest that Roxy Music’s saxophonist Andy McKay later recorded a solo album based on the Psalms entitled ‘3Psalms.’


If it seemed surprising to find a religious song on an album by Roxy Music, it is perhaps more surprising to find one on an album by The Clash; yet ‘The Sounds of Sinners’ is right there on ‘Sandinista.’ “That’s not a piss-take. I was thinking of LA and the great earthquake,” lead singer Joe Strummer said in an interview with Bill Flanagan.

The song provides a different take on the possibility of apocalypse from that found in ‘London Calling’ where, ‘The ice age is coming, the sun’s zooming in / Meltdown expected, the wheat is / growing thin / Engines stop running, but I have no fear / ‘Cause London is drowning / I live by the river.’ Jim Connelly writes, ‘And you wonder: is he sincere? Is he playing a character? And does it even matter with a song this catchy and fun? The answer, as always, is the last.’ This ‘just might be the most fun Joe Strummer ever had on record.’

The song’s themes of judgement and penitence link the song to Lent, although, as with the Roxy Music track, we wonder are they sincere or ironic or undecided, and does it matter if the song enables helpful reflection.



Our final choice was a newer track, ‘Jesus Coming’ by Rapsody, which addresses gun violence head on with a mix of testimony and prayer. Three stories of those who die by the gun interspersed with a sample of Gospel singer Otis G. Johnson’s ‘Time to Go Home.’ Home could be understood as heaven after death or as returning to faith, either way Jesus is coming although he’s not mentioned anywhere in the lyrics. Each character reviews their life and choices as they lie dying. The song is a genuine example of penitence and repentance while also being a powerful statement against gun violence.

So, how would I use these songs in a church setting? I can imagine using ‘By Way of Sorrow’ to provide a meditative moment after a sermon, in the same way that anthems are often used in an Anglican setting. I could envisage connecting ‘Psalm’, ‘The Sound of Sinners’ and ‘Jesus Coming’ for a study on repentance that might explore what repentance looks like and how or where it begins.

The arts, as a whole, consistently open up Christian themes or biblical stories in new ways, and these songs are no exception. We are surprised by those we find engaging with the Lenten themes of journeys involving sorrow, penitence and repentance. We are surprised too by the insights that they bring and the empathy they show. God’s Holy Spirit is present and active in all forms of music in ways that we hadn’t previously realised providing streams of light in darkened corners.

About Rev. Jonathan Evens
Rev. Jonathan Evens is Associate Vicar for HeartEdge at St Martin-in-the-Fields and co-author of ‘The Secret Chord,’ an impassioned study of the role of music in cultural life written through the prism of Christian belief. You can read more about the author here.

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