On a recent Sunday morning at Highland Hills Baptist Church in Macon, Ga., an ensemble of about two dozen adults performed Celebrate Life! The classic musical by Buryl Red and Ragan Courtney, published in 1972, has amazing staying power.
Youth choirs of the ’70s sounded the then-contemporary expressions of faith and hope in the Resurrection throughout worship settings large and small.In fact, several of the aging performers (We’re all aging!) at Highland Hills were reliving their youthful experiences with the musical.
In the late ’90s, a new generation of youth choirs performed Celebrate Life! to mark the 25th anniversary of its release. The music and the message registered with another generation.
But that one rebirth, a few years ago, of Celebrate Life! was not enough for some. The Highland Hills adults (in above photo taken by director Ruth DuCharme) returned with a more dramatized version. It was a worshipful experience.
Courtney, who is now co-pastor of Tarrytown Baptist Church in Austin, Texas, with his wife, singer Cynthia Clawson, penned the words to the signature song after a failed experience on Broadway. It was a personal testimony of faith that has been affirmed by many:
“He’s the wind I soar on; He’s the grass I run through; He’s the one I turn to when I have to laugh or cry. He’s the light of my world; He’s my priceless pearl; He’s my answer to why, He’s my friend even after I die. He’s the sun I sing in; He’s the sea I swim in; He’s the mountain I climb to when I want to reach a new high. Jesus my Lord.”
During the softer “In Remembrance” song, that focuses on the death of Christ, our congregation shared grapes and bread for Holy Communion. Then the Resurrection was affirmed through the resounding affirmation of “HE IS ALIVE.”
Surely, there are varied opinions about this musical, but I’ve rarely heard a negative word since the more upbeat songs rang loudly through the often-quiet sanctuaries of the ’70s where such exuberance had not been heard.
But one thing is sure: You cannot experience Celebrate Life! without taking some of it home with you. Weeks later, I still find myself singing: “You shall know the truth … You shall know the truth and love is the proof, and the truth will make you free.”