Wonderful Cross is the last track (of 10) on the Clayton Church worship album Higher Than I. It is the first song in this blog series because it was released first as a preview video in the lead up to the official album launch on 6 March 2016. Note – article updated Wednesday 25 May and enhanced to conform to the standard template utilised for the series.
- Praise to the Lord Almighty
- Higher Than I
- Blessed Assurance
- Great is Your Love
- You Are
- How Majestic
- I Desire
- Breathe on Me
- What A Friend We Have In Jesus
- Wonderful Cross (this article)
- Summary / One Month Review
The YouTube clip was from the live recording taken in August 2015 during the Clayton Church Worship Night. Wonderful Cross was written as an original song in reflection of what Jesus did for us, by three members of the Worship Team. Released late yesterday as a pre-release, the remainder of the album Higher Than I is scheduled to be released later this year via an official album launch.
For this introductory article, the focus remains on the general concept, overall journey and nothing too specific about the various songs. The album songs are listed above in order of performance from Worship Night 2015. Two additional songs were also sung on the night, on-demand and at the request from the congregation gathered:
- How Great Thou Art
- Because He Lives
Friday 28 August 2015 was the first Worship Night event that Clayton Church has held in this current season. The origins of that event stretch back in the early first half of 2015, and a crescendo of planning activity saw the month of August itself climax with the live worship of a church community that needed the time to cry out to God. Higher Than I is the title both the resultant album and one of the songs.
At one of the first Worship Team Nights of 2015 an exercise in song writing creativity was pursued. The challenge was to take a traditional well-known hymn and modernise it in any way we felt inspired. The desire was to help the young generations of the 21st century appreciate and connect with the hymns of 200+ years past. Over the years, many worship leaders and song writers have risen to this challenge – none other than Chris Tomlin. Whilst How Great Is Our God complements How Great Thou Art, that is not an actual example of this hymn modernisation challenge. Instead, think of Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) or Crown Him (Majesty). At the worship team night, we formed two groups where each group was given a song to modernise, both of which found their way into the album. The hymn my team focused on was Blessed Assurance whereas the other team tackled Praise to the Lord Almighty. Both these songs are documented in their own dedicated articles as individuals songs within our album now.
Between the team night held mid 2015 through to August, the team went away to polish and work on each song. Back at the team night, we only had two songs as a result of the team effort. However, the team went to work on new and original songs, in addition to creating modernised versions of other hymns. The other hymns were carefully selected to ensure we had copyright approval.
Worship Night as a concept was all about bringing the church together to simply praise God. In part, because of recent challenges that the church had faced, the desire to simply focus on God was a spiritually significant moment as it provided much relief from the valley that the church was journeying through. This reflects the origins of some of the greatest Psalms that David penned – he too was walking through valleys in the shadow of death and evil. With the event hailed a big success, the shift very quickly turned to the post-production activities and intended outcomes. The vision for the songs was always focused on internal use within the church, and thus monetisation was not and has not ever been a real consideration. This general policy may evolve depending on the channels used to distribute the music.
The stage design for Worship Night saw a radical redesign and re-purpose of our church’s chapel. The entire seating was rearranged into creating a middle circular point. The worship team stage was created on the ground floor in front of the raised stage and the seating was arranged around this set-up. As a night-time event, and not utilising the main stage or chapel lighting, a warm and intimate atmosphere was instead created with lounge furniture – seats, cushions and lamps. Bean bags were added to the immediate front rows for the congregation to enjoy. Words cannot truly express the design.
In the photo here, you can see the normal stage behind – only the middle screen was used to project lyrics and no background images were utilised – a pure black screen was desired to not take attention away from the effect of the stage design. Video clips were also displayed on screen so even though the focus was circular, there were still aspects of the night that had a front-chapel orientation. The raised stage on the bottom left of the photo was also introduced to ensure the speaker there could be clearly seen. Videography was planned such that our team of videographers could roam around the entire area in dedicated spaces to capture footage.
As part of the planning, a full dress rehearsal was planned for the Thursday beforehand where the team was asked to wear the same clothing and retain the same hair style for both evenings. With 11 songs to rehearse, the dress rehearsal took some 3+ hours and the order of songs did not follow the actual order at Worship Night itself. Transitions between songs were not required since each song was interspersed with video clips or short bible readings.
With all equipment and a full cast of singers, a considerable effort was put into cabling and wiring up the entire operation. The number of lamps used also created additional requirements on electricity power and those rugs in the photo were there in part to help cover the spaghetti mess of wires and power cables that traversed the chapel floor. Indeed, the huge effort that this set-up took also meant an equal if not greater effort would be required to restore the normal stage set-up. However, given the huge success and approval of this stage set-up, it was allowed to remain in place for two weekends, when church services also utilised the set-up, just simplified to remove the lamps and bean-bags.
The post production effort saw the worship team record vocals again. This meant the 5 worship leaders who covered each song had a dedicated recording session followed by all other singers coming together to sing our full part harmonies. Mixing and editing each song was a monumental effort undertaken by our Worship Director and after listening repeatedly to snippets of sound, he had admitted to being over some of the songs. Whilst all that effort took place in the background, the team started to introduce songs into Sunday morning services. With positive reception to our own songs, a proper album launch was announced in late 2015 to be held in 2016 instead of simply releasing the songs. The video snippet below was shared with the church community in November, some 2~3 months after Worship Night.
A parallel effort to create the music videos was conducted by the team dedicated to that effort. The first video at the top of this article is the first of these finished products. A full set of resources to support life-groups and ministries in reuse of the worship songs is planned – chord sheets, lyrics, audio and video tracks. The current music videos stop short of embedding lyrics, but a lyrics video may actually be released as part of the official album launch in May, so watch this space!
An introductory video was created to support the background story behind this song. That video was presented as part of Worship Night where people were given an appreciation of the thought process behind this particular song.
Our worship director is quite a visual person, so when he looked at the cross, he just started to think about all the things that it remind him of – Christ took our sins and what happened while He was on the cross. Our worship director remembers getting stuck with the song-writing process and so, he brought it to the wider team. Given this opportunity, the wider team sought God and started singing “Risen! Risen!”. This is where the chorus originates – that we can declare that Christ is risen. So we all can stand with all the Saints to proclaim just how awesome is our God.
Melodically, the verse flows quite well. As a medium pace song, the lyrics are quite comfortably sung. As a whole, this song captures the story of Easter quite well. There is an undulating type of effect, in that the first line ascends and then drops according to the words being articulated. “As I look at” is naturally a hopefully statement and is sung with the melody and tones increasing. “the wonderful cross” sees that melody peak and hang – the next line completes the first – that in looking at the wonderful cross, we see our sins wounded and scarred. The second line thus starts high and finishes lower, a somewhat opposite melody to the first. The fourth line provides a rhyming pattern for the second in the ending. The final line of the verse then resolves the melody. Lyrically, the second line initially may require a closer look, but when put in the context of t he entire verse, it is our sins which are causing the wounds and scars on the King above all Kings.
Verse 2 describes the Easter weekend from Good Friday and then references Resurrection Sunday. Easter Sunday and His resurrection is the whole thrust of the chorus. The journey of the song is completed by Verse 3 where the focus shifts to a more present/future reflection – now we can stand to be with Jesus as our friend, Saviour and king. The interesting thing about this song is the title “Wonderful Cross”, which is only sung once as part of the first line of the song “As I look at the wonderful cross”. Arguably, you could pick any part of the chorus as an alternate name for the song…
As I look at the Wonderful Cross
I see my sins wounded and scarred
The King above all Kings
Who was left hanging
On that Blood soaked, wooden cross
As darkness fell over the land
Our Saviour was taken from our hands
And though it seemed like an eternity
In three days He rose victoriously
How awesome is our God
He has risen from the grave
He has risen
So I will stand to sing with the saints
Of how awesome is our God
(Sing Him a new Song!)
Salvation was given through grace
Redeemed we live free to face
What was before an uncertainty
Now I can stand to be
With my Friend, Saviour and King