When I was a young girl in a traditional Southern Baptist Church, if you asked me what Easter was about, I would have told you right away: Jesus’s Crucifixion. Why did I think that Easter Sunday, the day we celebrate Christ defeating death and conquering the grave, was mostly about His death? Simple — the music was all about the cross. We sang about the blood and the rugged cross and more blood and thorny crowns and sacrifice — and sometimes, oddly, about heaven — but rarely did we sing about Christ’s resurrection. One year, when trying to plan Easter music for my church service, I did a little internet search and came across an article (which I will not link here, so as to protect the guilty) claiming to be about resurrection-themed songs. Eighty percent of them focused solely or primarily on the crucifixion, only giving a nod to resurrection.
So, although any worship leaders reading this will have already planned and practiced for their Easter services at this point, I give you: 20 songs for congregational worship that actually celebrate the resurrection.
Songs with a strong resurrection focus
First up: songs which take the resurrection event itself as the primary focus.
Forever (We Sing Alleluia) – Kari Jobe: This song has almost become a classic in its few years in existence. It’s a perfect Easter service opener, or Saturday night vigil closer, since it starts with Christ in the grave and then dramatically celebrates his rising.
Christ the Lord is Risen Today – Wesley: Although the melodic runs on parts of this song can stump those congregations unused to singing hymns, the lyrics of this classic are too good to ignore. I especially love how verse four connects Christ’s resurrection with our own: “Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia!/ Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!”
Alive, Forever Amen – Travis Cottrell: My home church started singing this one when it came out about a decade ago, and I’ve never heard any other churches do it. And that, my friends, is a real shame. I think many worship leaders think that the style won’t work for their band, but as someone who has successfully led this piece from an acoustic guitar, I know that you have to look beyond the production style on many of its versions to get to the song’s heart.
Exsultet – Liturgical Folk: Dallas-based Liturgical Folk brings prayers, hymns, and scriptures from the Anglican tradition to new life in folk settings. This piece takes the Exsultet — or Easter Proclamation, traditionally sung at Easter vigil services — as its text. Its moodier music works perfectly for a midnight Easter vigil, but its singability and folk sensibility makes it easy to adapt to a variety of congregational needs.
Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed – Gettys: Keith and Kristyn Getty consistently turn out excellent, theologically-rich songs that are easy for congregations to sing. This one moves from the story of Christ’s resurrection to the effect of that resurrection power on our Christian life and witness: “The power that raised him from the grave/ now works in us to powerfully save/ He frees our hearts to live his grace/ go, tell of his goodness.”
Songs that tell Christ’s story
These songs tell Christ’s story, often from birth, but sometimes from the cross. They give a great overview of the significance of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, and they all have the resurrection as their climax.
Glorious Day (Living He Loved Me) – Casting Crowns: This song was a beloved hymn before it went through the various iterations that became this CCM staple. I love that it tells the whole story of Jesus, allowing us to see his resurrection in context.
The Glory of it All – David Crowder: This song takes its listeners from the Word who was with God at the beginning through the various implications of his “rescue from the fall.” But the climax comes in the bridge, with its celebration of new, resurrection life:
It’s a new day, a new day
Oh, everything will change
Things will never be the same
We will never be the same
And Can it Be – Wesley: Some Wesleyan hymns simply did not make their way into my Baptist consciousness. I didn’t know about this one until singing a gorgeous arrangement of it in college. The melody hasn’t aged as well as some of Wesley’s other hymns, but the lyrics are rich and cover the full scope of Jesus’s death, resurrection, and saving power. Here’s a newer version by Indelible Grace that would work better for many congregations:
This is Amazing Grace — Phil Wickham: It took me a while to take to this very popular song because the church band I lead plays in softer acoustic styles. The blast of synth at the start just didn’t work for me. But once I played the song for myself, I realized that it’s easy to adapt to different styles. And more importantly for our purposes, the song is all about praising the power and might of “the King who conquered the grave.”
Oh praise the name (Anastasis) – Hillsong: This one meditates quite a bit on the crucifixion before opening into a celebration of the resurrection and an anticipation of Christ’s return. Another perfect Easter service opener.
*Bonus: Passion Song — Sean Carter: I’m including this one as a “bonus,” because it would work better for a special than for a congregational piece. But it’s such a beautiful piece of storytelling that takes the listener from Christ’s death to his glorious resurrection, that I had to include it.
Songs that Celebrate the Implications of the Resurrection for Christian Life
This category mostly includes songs that talk about the freedom, hope, power, etc. that a believer is heir to in Christ. One day we will experience a bodily resurrection. But until then, these songs help us focus on the signs of Christ’s resurrection power in our lives in the here and now.
In Christ Alone – the Gettys: A perennial favorite, chances are good that you’ll hear this song at an Easter service near you. This song could have fit in many categories, but I put it here because of its focus on “hope,” “life,” “strength,” and “power” that we can experience in this lifetime because of Christ’s victory over the grave. The song also fits well in the previous category, as it journeys from Christ’s incarnation to his return all in one song.
More than Conquerors – Rend Collective: I love the lilting Irish flair of this piece, and the way it connects the resurrection to the power we need for overcoming sin and shame in our lives: “Oh your resurrection power/burns like fire in my heart/when waters rise, I lift my eyes up to your throne.” And: “I will sing into the night/Christ is risen and on high/greater is he living in me than in the world.” This song is a joyous celebration of the way the Christian shares in Christ’s victory over death.
Because He Lives – Gaithers: Another classic, but one that is ripe for some new musical interpretations. The lyrics, though, are really the only ones of their kind in this category, as we learn that Christ gives hope in this life and the next, making life “worth the living just because He lives.”
Stronger (Hillsong): Although the verses can be a bit vague for me, I find the chorus so powerful, both musically and lyrically, that I keep returning to it in my meditations on the believer’s victory through Christ:
You are stronger, You are stronger
Sin is broken, You have saved me
It is written: Christ is risen
Jesus You are Lord of all
Death Was Arrested — Northpoint: This newer song provides a lovely reflection on what it means for a Christian to walk in new life through Christ. I especially love verse 2:
Ash was redeemed; only beauty remains
My orphan heart was given a name
My mourning grew quiet my feet rose to dance
When death was arrested and my life began
I also love a good acoustic version — good for worship leaders like me who have a smaller, acoustic band:
Songs that Celebrate the Implications of the Resurrection for all Life
This category is the most difficult to find examples for; incidentally, it’s kind of my soapbox category. When Christ rose from the grave, He started something new: He reversed death and the fall, and one day, He will abolish death altogether and make all things new. These songs celebrate the aspects of the resurrection that affect all creation — even death itself.
Ain’t No Grave – Crowder: This song focuses on our share in Christ’s resurrection when the dead in Christ rise and we are given new, incorruptible bodies. (See also the chilling Johnny Cash version of the gospel spiritual of the same name). Songs that celebrate our own physical resurrection remind us that Jesus didn’t just come to save souls; He saves whole humans, and when he returns, we can sing, with David Crowder, “Roll that stone, I won’t be found/
Ain’t no grave gonna hold me down.”
Death in His Grave – John Mark McMillan: While this song dwells on the crucifixion longer than some of the others in this list, it does so only to bring home the main point that Christ, in being “first born of the slain,” now holds the keys to hell and has sentenced death and the devil to eternal death. In addition to its main claim, McMillan’s unique poetry involves the whole earth, as sun, moon, and oceans bear witness to Christ’s death and resurrection.
Did you feel the mountains tremble? – Delirious: I wasn’t quite sure where to place this song. I love that it captures the excitement of the news of the resurrection and demands a whole-hearted response in singing, dancing, and seeking peace and justice for all nations. I chose it for this category because “the mountains tremble” and the “oceans roar” whenever God’s people sing about the risen Christ. Such lines bring to mind Romans 8:20-21, when Paul writes that the whole creation groans as it waits for God’s children to be revealed, but that even the creation itself will one day be released from decay and take part in the freedom of God’s sons and daughters. In this song, the mountains and oceans join in the celebration as news of Christ’s redemption spreads through the land, showing a partial fulfillment of that Romans passage.
Morning Has Broken – Eleanor Farjeon: This hymn was made popular in the seventies by Cat Steven’s cover. I love what he does with it, and I’d love to see it return to common church use. But it’s a subtle little song, and evangelicals don’t always do subtlety well. The song’s first verse is easy to write off as a cute little pastoral, more in praise of creation than Creator. Its second verse is reminiscent of the sentimentalism of “In the Garden,” and the third verse kind of sounds like a children’s rhyme, with its declarations, “Mine is the sunlight/ Mine is the morning.” But I urge you to look closer. This little song sees all creation joining in the joy of the resurrected Lord (whose feet pass in the garden in verse two). Then, it implies a faithful resurrection power at work in every morning, with “God’s recreation of the new day.”
Beautiful Things – Gungor: Like “Morning has Broken,” “Beautiful Things” sees a picture of God’s redemptive work in his creative work in nature. Then, it draws out the metaphor to include us, culminating in the moving refrain: “You make beautiful things out of dust; You make beautiful things out of us.” Although the “dust” of the chorus could easily mean the dust from which Adam was formed, the song’s resurrection context implies another meaning: the dust of decayed bodies, which will one day be raised imperishable.
So there are my picks for 20 Easter songs that celebrate different aspects of the resurrection. Unfortunately, my choices only reflect my experiences, so I’m sure I’ve missed a few great ones. Which songs would you add to the list?