Christ The Drum

Christ The Drum April 15, 2019
Source: .shyam. / flickr

In India, in a situation which contradicts their otherwise outcast social status, Dalits are recruited to play drums for funeral services. As they play their drums, Dalits find themselves joining in with the rest of Hindu society; their beats bring everything together into one glorious albeit brief harmony in which they find themselves at the very center of the religious service. Why are they called to perform this service, why are they allowed to lead funeral rites? Because the drum, made with dead cow hides, is seen fit only for untouchables, and yet its service is needed for purification rituals. When the outcast and the dead, the lowest of the low, are needed, they take on the sins of the world upon themselves. Once the ceremony is complete, they are once again cast aside, treated as if they are the walking dead, zombies whose impurity must be avoided lest one becomes contaminated by their impurity. [1]

Drums, in many traditions, are sacred objects. They have an important role in religious rituals. They help keep the ritual going. They are beaten down, only to give forth a triumphant noise. They remain strong, providing a stable rhythm, becoming the cornerstone, as it were, which allows a variety of sounds to work together and produce a wonderful musical composition.

Even though many have turned away from the sacred, and do not realize how central the drum is for many religious rituals, drums remain at the heart of our music, its pulse-like beat providing the same function for profane songs as they did with sacred ceremonies.  Indeed, great music will bring out the spiritual in us, where we begin to dance to the beat, moving beyond all conceptions as we let the music draw us in. The drum, with its sound, gives music its energy and life, and we, as we find ourselves moving in step with the beat of the drum, find that vitality which we need to carry on, not just during the time we hear the music but also after, where the joy we experienced stays with us for the rest of the day.

It is in this light that Jesus Christ can be compared to a drum; through such a comparison, it is indeed proper to see that the drum itself can and should serve as a symbol to represent Christ to the world. He is struck down for us, taking away the sins of the world. He centers us and the whole world in the beating which he took, giving us through it, the spiritual harmony and rhythm we need for the world to be reformed along a new, revived beat. Likewise, with his dual natures, he can be seen to be a drummer, following along the footsteps of the Dalits in India. As man he is a drum, as God he is the drummer who emptied himself of all earthly honor and glory so that he could become an outcast, an untouchable cast aside as one of the dead. He took on the sins of the world, rendering us the service which we need, asking us to focus upon him and the rhythm which he established at the heart of creation; he became that which we needed even as he became disfigured and a thing of horror to us all:

Behold, my servant shall prosper, he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high.  As many were astonished at him — his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the sons of men — so shall he startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which has not been told them they shall see, and that which they have not heard they shall understand (Isaiah 52:13-15 RSV).

He is the master of the dance because he lets himself be turned into a drum, struck down and beaten, so that in return he can show us the glory of the resurrection. He is the master of the dance, leading us with the rhythm established by his passion on the cross. Will we dance with him, will we reorient ourselves around him and accept the new beat, the new harmony, meant to overcome the beat and harmony of sin?

Christ touches the dead, and becomes one with them, becoming outcasted from life, so that he can give the cry of salvation, the glorious triumph of the resurrection to those who are dead, allowing them to share in the glory of the kingdom of God.  Where he is found, we find the beat of salvation. He has transformed the beatings which he received into the foundation for a new song, a song of victory, a song which overrides all sin. By letting himself be turned into a drum, beaten down by the powers that he, he has overcome all the evil which tried to put him down. The harder he is pounded, the greater his triumph: the greater the beat, the greater the song and dance which emerges. The more he is tried, the more he shows himself to be victorious. He is beaten down to death. He dances with death itself, and in that dance he overcome that final enemy.  Death has end, while the song established by him and through him will go on.

Let us sing with the Psalmist a new song, a song of salvation founded upon defeat, a song of glory found in the untouchables, a song pounded out of Christ:

O sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth!  Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! (Ps.  96:1-3 RSV).

Let us sing to the beat of the drum so that we can find our eternal peace.

[1] For an in-depth analysis of this, see Sathianathan Clarke, Dalits and Christianity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), especially 63 – 71. Likewise, seeing Christ as a drum is an image for Christian theology is something I first understood as a result of reading this book.


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