Sunday Morning Coming Down (Romans 7)

This week please read chapter 9, The Legend of John Henry’s Hammer, and chapter 10, Sunday Morning Coming Down of Richard Beck’s book Trains, Jesus, and Murder – The Gospel According to Johnny Cash.

Of all the songs that we will study, “Sunday Morning Coming Down” is the most meaningful to me because it is the song that speaks most directly about the human condition.

THE SONG:

Sunday Morning Coming Down is the story of an addict coming down from the high he got on Saturday night and the regret he feels for what his addiction has caused him to relinquish. Waking up on Sunday, the singer drinks two beers for breakfast and stumbles out of his apartment to take a walk. He sees a kid kicking a can down the road which reminds him of the pointlessness of his life. He then smells “someone fryin’ chicken.”  That smell takes him “back to somethin’ that I’d lost somewhere, somehow along the way.” He realizes the consequences of his sin.

As the singer continues to walk through town, he passes by a church Sunday school singing hymns and sees a father playing with his family in the park. All of these things come together to create a profound sense of social alienation. The life that he once had is gone, and now the singer is alone with his regret. The life of drug use has caused the man to become solitary and alone. All he can do is simply wish that he was stoned again or maybe even dead so that his feeling of estrangement will be gone.

THE HUMAN CONDITION:

“Sunday Morning Coming Down” is our reality into which the good news of Jesus Christ is spoken. The story of the Gospel begins with the recognition that we are enslaved to the elemental spirits of this world. (Gal. 4:1-9). Not unlike the demonics in the Gospels (Matt. 8:28-34), drug addiction, or other non-God-centered behavior, is a matter of possession and ownership of the person by evil. As Paul argues, we are enslaved to the one that we obey. (Rom. 6:16). And within this condition of slavery, “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” (Rom. 7:19).

The question for us, as Beck points out in his book, is “when we are hurt or suffering, where do we turn? What are leaning on to make it through the day? Where are we placing our trust?” To whom are we enslaved – to righteousness or to sinfulness?

Although the song is specifically about drug addiction, the message it gives us applies to each of us whenever our sinful nature takes over. The feeling of alienation, regret, and estrangement is not unique to drug addicts. The question for each of us at all times, is where are you owned by sin and where are you possessed by the powers of this world? What does your body, your ego, and your spirit tell you that you must possess to the exclusion of the Good? For me it’s work – my professional reputation and my duties to my clients, my partners, the courts, and others that take over and control me. That is too often my Lord, what is yours?

SALVATION:

The song itself doesn’t speak of salvation, only a despair whose solution is getting stoned. The singer knows his condition, but he does not see his way out. And, like the prostitutes and tax collectors of Jesus’ day, I am certain that family and religious people made sure that the singer knew his condition. The challenge for us, is how do we speak the grace and peace of Jesus Christ into the singer’s condition? Or rather, how do allow the Spirit to speak that grace and peace through us? How do we become instruments to proclaim Christ’s release of those who are captive to sin and the elemental forces of this world?

(An interesting backstory to the song is HERE.)

LYRICS:

Well, I woke up Sunday morning
With no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt
And the beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad
So I had one more for dessert

Then I fumbled through my closet for my clothes
And found my cleanest dirty shirt
And I washed my face and combed my hair
And stumbled down the stairs to meet the day

I’d smoked my brain the night before
On cigarettes and songs that I’d been pickin’
But I lit my first and watched a small kid
Cussin’ at a can that he was kicking

Then I crossed the empty street
And caught the Sunday smell of someone fryin’ chicken
And it took me back to somethin’
That I’d lost somehow, somewhere along the way

On the Sunday morning sidewalk
Wishing, Lord, that I was stoned
‘Cause there’s something in a Sunday
Makes a body feel alone

There ain’t nothin’ short of dyin’
Half as lonesome as the sound
On the sleepin’ city sidewalks
Sunday mornin’ comin’ down

In the park I saw a daddy
With a laughin’ little girl who he was swingin’
And I stopped beside a Sunday school
Listened to the song they were singin’

Then I headed back for home
And somewhere far away a lonesome bell was ringin’
And it echoed through the canyons
Like the disappearing dreams of yesterday

On the Sunday morning sidewalk
Wishing, Lord, that I was stoned
‘Cause there’s something in a Sunday
Makes a body feel alone

There ain’t nothin’ short of dyin’
Half as lonesome as the sound
On the sleepin’ city sidewalks
Sunday mornin’ comin’ down

On the Sunday morning sidewalk
Wishing, Lord, that I was stoned
‘Cause there’s something in a Sunday
Makes your body feel alone

There ain’t nothin’ short of dyin’
Half as lonesome as the sound
On the sleepin’ city sidewalks
Sunday mornin’ comin’ down

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good.So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. . . Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! Romans 7:14-20, 24-24a

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