I am currently enjoying Lisa Harper’s latest Bible study, Malachi: A Love that Never Lets Go. Each week she includes out-of-the-box exercises to help us implement what we are learning. This week’s assignment was to learn the origin of the old spiritual Swing Low, Sweet Chariot and then to rewrite it in our own “dialect” and from our own heart. What a great exercise this was!
First, the origin: The spiritual was written by a man commonly known as Uncle Wallace, Wallis Willis, a Choctaw freedman. He wrote it around 1840 and was inspired to do so by his home close to Oklahoma City and by the Red River, which reminded him of the Jordan River. The prophet Elijah is closely associated with the Jordan River, the location where a chariot and horses of fire appeared between him and his successor Elisha, and Elijah was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind. (Numerous non-scholarly sources believe the song contained hidden lyrics that pertain to the Underground Railroad that served as an escape route to freedom for slaves.)
Tradition has it that a Choctaw boarding school minister, Alexander Reid, overheard Willis singing the song and had him transcribe the words and music. He then sent the song to the Fisk Jubilee Singers in Nashville, who popularized the song as they toured throughout the U.S. and Europe in the early 1900’s. The rest, as they say, is history. The Recording Industry Association of America added Swing Low, Sweet Chariot to its list of “Songs of the [20th]Century.”
Second, my rewrite: It’s hard to rewrite the words to a song that is so beloved and so historic. But it’s words bring a picture to my mind’s eye of a man struggling in this oft difficult world, longing for his Savior to bring down a chariot and whisk him away to the paradise of heaven. I, too, sometimes get weary with the daily struggles of this life and even get a little impatient at times while waiting on the Lord’s return.
But, my friend, He is coming! And He, Jesus Christ, is the only ticket for that sweet chariot ride to heaven! No one else or no-thing else in this world will get you there. Jesus came the first time to bring salvation; He’ll come the next time to bring judgment. But before His judgment falls, He’ll take His children for the ride of their lives!
Do you have your Ticket? If not, let’s talk.