Joy Surprises! — new blog and video for Palm Sunday

Award-winning songwriter, Steve Bell, shares his song, "Bethany In the Morning", and reflects on the concept of anticipatory joy.

Hello friends… just wanted to let you know we’ve put up a new video for my song “Bethany in the Morning” which I hope can be a part of your Holy Week reflections. The song itself, co-written with my daughter-in-law, Diana Pops, was inspired by the events of Palm Sunday and its preceding day, Lazarus Saturday (as it is known in the Christian East.)

Lazarus and Bethany

The song plays off of the meaning of the names Lazarus and Bethany. Lazarus was the one whose home (with his sisters Mary and Martha) was, for Jesus, an oasis of relief and respite from the “heat” of Jerusalem. Bethany was a village of social outcasts on the outskirts of Jerusalem in which they lived. The name Lazarus means “The Lord Helps.” 

The name Bethany means “The House of Misery.” Together they form what could be considered the campaign slogan of the coming kingdom of God: The Lord Helps the House of Misery. And it is from this place of anointing that Jesus launched his “triumphal” entry into Jerusalem on a lowly donkey amid shouts of “Hosanna!” (God save us!) from the beleaguered crowds.  

Of course, events turned out differently than anticipated because, as Ched Myers has written, “the new order of the kingdom as Jesus envisioned it could not be imposed on history by the seizure of power.” Indeed, the Jesus revolution “is not a program of seizure of power; it is a program of transformation of relationships.” (Binding the Strong Man, pp. 348, 288). That insight, I hope, will be a part of this coming week’s reflections, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. This song is an example of what may be called anticipatory joy.   

Anticipatory Joy

Anticipatory grief is something I learned about in the days and hours leading up to my father’s death. It’s a grief that anticipates the inevitable, but with the added agony of not knowing the hour or details of what will surely come to pass. Anticipatory joy works in the same way. As the Covid-19 pandemic starts to wane, one can feel a certain joy starting to whelm even as the weather turns from winter to spring. 

In the same way that a gardener cannot know which perennials will survive the winter, neither can we know what will survive into the new era and what will not. Therefore, ours is a tempered joy, but a joy nonetheless. One can reasonably feel its energy, but perhaps it’s wise not to predetermine what things will look like once this bleak and freezing season has passed.  

In the case of the coming kingdom of God, there are strong indicators in the Gospels of what that might look like, but things may yet look quite different than anticipated. We can have good hope while we keep our hearts and hands open to a gift with dimensions and characteristics that we wouldn’t necessarily think to ask, or even hope for.  

As the song says… joy surprises.

Music and lyrics by Steve Bell and Diana Pops

Praise the lord
Blessed be
Who has come to help the house called Bethany
And defends those broken friends
Who’ve been crying

Comes a light
Breaks the dawn
Can you feel the ray of hope for those whose hope is gone?
Lift your head
Dry your eyes
Time for rising

Praise the Lord
Blessed be
Who brings comfort to the very least of these
In whose hands the journey ends
Joy surprises

From the east
With every morn
Can you hear the voice that summons up Horizon’s song?
Lift your head
Dry your eyes
Time for rising

Praise the Lord
Blessed be He
Anointed in the house of misery
Who defends the humble hands
That bode His dying

Who braved the night
Retrieved the dawn
A ray of hope for those whose hope is gone
Lift your head
Dry your eyes
Time for rising


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One thought on “Joy Surprises! — new blog and video for Palm Sunday

  1. Thanks Steve and Dianna. Great song!
    We have enjoyed several of your concerts Steve and look forward to the day to can come back to Regina. I was extremely touched when I heard you share the testimony of when your father surprised you by coming from Edmonton to Winnipeg and loved you so beautifully during your “other” days. What a wise and loving father you were blest to have had.

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