Andrew Peterson’s Resurrection Letters – a feature story by Doug McKelvey

Andrew Peterson’s Resurrection Letters

By Doug McKelvey

On paper Resurrection Letters, Vol. I is a project that shouldn’t exist. The math doesn’t add up. After ten years of putting it off, ten years of feeling too intimidated and inadequate to write and record the project he instinctively knew could be the most important and personally meaningful of his career, Andrew Peterson wrestled a growing sense he could put it off no longer. After all, we’re only given so many years in this life.

 

Peterson’s twenty years of creative output as a songwriter and novelist had already served to articulate and shape the longings of hundreds of thousands of fans, turning and training their desires towards eternal things. His poetic and theologically rich expressions have been always honest, sometimes painful, ever restless, ever hopeful, ever human. He is the rare artist who clearly sees his talent, not as a reason for pride and self-promotion, but as a thing he is given primarily to steward in the service of others. And it was because of that posture of humility—and despite all his recent successes as a recording artist, novelist, filmmaker, and non-profit organizer—that the unfinished Resurrection Letters project was always present somewhere in the back of his mind unsettling him like a splinter under skin.

 

“Listeners asked me again and again about when I would record Resurrection Letters, Volume One,” Andrew remembers, “and I would wince every time.”

 

To put all of this another way, there are many artists who are gifted, and then there are a small handful of artists who are gifts. And Andrew Peterson is a gift to the Body of Christ. He has not pursued a career by asking what would sell well and seeking to cash in on that. Instead he has pursued a calling by asking what would serve well and then laboring to bring those expressions of beauty and comfort and longing into being. When he creates, he creates with a measure of fear and trembling, because he begins in the knowledge of his own limitations, never presuming he will be able to bring his work to any meaningful completion. So it makes sense that the project he saw as most necessary would also be the project he would feel most unprepared, even unworthy, to pursue.

 

“Honestly, as the centrality of the resurrection became clearer and clearer to me from a theological standpoint,” he says, “the less I felt up to the task.”

 

A decade ago Peterson had been so stirred by implications of the resurrection expressed in N.T. Wright’s Surprised By Hope and C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce that he penned an album’s worth of songs unpacking those epiphanies. For the intervening decade since the release of Resurrection Letters, Vol. II though, he’s found himself mumbling ambiguous and reluctant answers to that obvious, repeated question: “When are you going to go back and record Volume I?”

 

“The songs I wrote for Volume II traced the ripple effects of the resurrection,” Andrew explains. “They explored how it impacted my own life and hopes rather than being specifically about Jesus. I called itVolume II because I knew there was a more fundamental part of that story still to tell. The whole church, the whole history of our faith, hinges on Christ’s resurrection. But I didn’t feel adequate to the task of communicating that, so for ten years I’ve carried that insecurity along with the sense that I needed to bring it to completion at some point.”

 

Eventually, that time came. In the fall of 2017 Andrew met with his label Centricity Music and together they agreed on a deadline three short months away so the project could release in time for Easter of 2018. Now Resurrection Letters, Vol. I was on the calendar. The gears were turning and time and money from the label were being invested in anticipation of the pending release, so one way or another Andrew was going to have to deliver something. Problem was, those three months spanned a quarter year which was shaping up to be the most unlikely recording season of Andrew Peterson’s career.

 

“I came into the process with only two songs written,” Andrew explains, “and during those three months I had two trips to England scheduled, a trip to Israel, a deadline to complete the Wingfeather Saga animated film, and a deadline to finish writing a nonfiction book. I was also staging the Rich Mullins tribute concert, staging the Rabbit Room Live show, hosting the annualHutchmoot Conference, and coordinating and touring the Behold the Lamb of God Christmas concert. It really didn’t make sense that we could record Resurrection Letters, Vol. I during those same three months, but somehow, on odd days when I was home in Nashville, it happened.”

 

Happened is perhaps a slight understatement. Three months later Peterson had managed to record fourteen new songs. At that point a decision was made to split the project into a five-song EP and a nine-song album, partly because of the number of songs, and partly because of the subject matter. Most of the songs were about Christ’s resurrection, but a handful centered instead on his crucifixion.

 

“My dream was always that Resurrection Letters, Vol. Iwould be a record you would listen to on Easter Sunday,” Andrew says, “so I wanted it to feel like a celebration. Early on I imagined a three-part structure following the line from the Anglican liturgy ‘Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.’ But once everything was recorded it just didn’t feel right to open the project with “Last Words (Tenebrae)”(a song based on Christ’s final utterances on the cross) and then to spend five songs contemplating his death. So we split it. The Prologue EP (Resurrection Letters: Prologue), honors the necessary darkness of the cross and becomes a musical meditation for Passion Week and Good Friday, allowing Resurrection Letters, Vol. I to be the pure Easter celebration we envisioned.”

 

Much of the credit for the prolific song output during those three months, Peterson says, goes to producer Ben Shive (Ellie Holcomb, Colony House, Mercy Me). Shive stepped up to shepherd the project through Andrew’s frequent absences. Having produced Resurrection Letters, Vol. II a decade earlier and toured for years with Andrew, Ben was the obvious choice. “He understood more than anyone else what we were trying to do,” Andrew says. “Plus, Ben Shive knows scripture better than any friend I have, which is essential for a project like this. He even wrote two of the songs and co-wrote another three.”

 

Shive had also split production credits on Peterson’s last two studio projects, Light for the Lost Boy andThe Burning Edge of Dawn. Those albums were autobiographical, dealing in large part with Andrew’s “long, dark journey” through a three-year depression.

 

“One of the reasons I love doing the Behold the Lamb of God tour every year,” Andrew says, “is that it feels really good to spend a month of the year not singing about me and my story, but instead singing words from scripture about the Lamb of God. After four years spent writing and singing songs about my own struggles, to spend this season writing and singing about the death and resurrection of Jesus felt like a culmination of that hard journey. When I die, I’m not interested in people saying that I told my own story well, except in how the telling of my own journey might have drawn them to a deeper understanding of the gospel.Resurrection Letters, Vol. I is a distillation of that hope.”

 

Such hope is articulated most clearly in the first single and video “Is He Worthy?” Drawn from the fifth chapter of Revelation, the song is structured as a sort of liturgy set to music, utilizing a call and response format that invites listeners to become participants. It isn’t difficult to imagine that “Is He Worthy?” might be printed in hymnals 200 years from now. The poetic, catechismal lyric begins in a recognition of the world’s brokenness and builds to a hope-filled and worshipful proclamation of Christ’s worthiness.

 

“When I sing those words from scripture, I can hardly believe they’re true,” Andrew says. “‘From every people and tribe, every nation and tongue, he has made us a kingdom and priests to God who reign with the Son.’ We’re told that we will actually reign with Christ. That is a mind-blowing promise. How can we even wrap our thoughts around it?”

 

The album’s upbeat, anthemic opener, “His Heart Beats,” likewise deals with an incomprehensible reality: that the resurrection of Jesus wasn’t only a spiritual event, but involved a dead physical body being restored to life; that a heart which had been silent for three days suddenly contracted and began to beat again; that the blood which had stilled and pooled in Christ’s veins suddenly began to flow again. “His Heart Beats” is a joyful meditation and triumphant declaration likely to be incorporated into many Easter sunrise services.

 

A third song that could similarly serve the church for generations is the psalm-like “Always Good,” written when a friend suddenly and unexpectedly lost his wife. Perhaps more than any other song on the record, “Always Good” is a hard-won confession of faith that lives in that expectant tension between the hurts of this life and the hopes of what is to come.

 

“I never cried so much making a record,” Andrew reflects. “What it really means to ponder and pray and write about the significance of the centrality of the resurrection is that the whole album is about Jesus. It’s about the person of Christ. Through that creative process I found myself loving him more. IfBehold the Lamb of God is about dusting cobwebs off the Christmas story to remind people it’s about the incarnation and the atonement for sin, then Resurrection Letters, Vol. I is the next chapter in the story, a celebration of what Christ saved us for. My hope is that these songs kindle a new longing not only in hearts, but down to our very bones and sinews—a tangible longing that we were made for this, for this coming redemption, for God dwelling with his people in a more profound way than he did even in the garden.”

 

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ANDREW PETERSON RELEASES RESURRECTION LETTERS, ONE ALBUM, THREE PARTS, TEN YEARS IN THE MAKING PROLOGUE – VOL. I – VOL. II

Greatest News I’ve Heard All Week

Dove Award-nominated recording artist, songwriter and award-winning author Andrew Peterson announces the long-awaited album Resurrection Letters, Vol. I, which will release March 30 and will be preceded by this week’s (Feb. 9) launch of Resurrection Letters: Prologue. Both recordings will release globally from Centricity Music, and Prologue will be available Friday, Feb. 9 from digital retailers everywhere and through https://AndrewPeterson.lnk.to/Prologue.

 

Produced by Ben Shive, Resurrection Letters, Vol. I is the prequel (think Star Wars) to the highly acclaimed album Peterson released and Shive produced in 2008, Resurrection Letters, Vol. II. While Vol. II is more about the implications of Christ’s resurrection victory over sin and death in our own lives two thousand years later, Vol. I begins with the heartbeat of the resurrected Christ while exploring the resurrection itself and its centrality to Christianity. Ten years in the making, the celebratory new volume is meant to move listeners to a greater gratitude, awe and love for God.

 

Releasing in time for Easter, Resurrection Letters, Vol. I features songs like “Is He Worthy,” “I’ve seen Too Much” and “His Heart Beats,” the latter track being heard on Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of God tour last year. The song is about that glorious moment in the tomb when Jesus, who was dead, came back to life.

 

“My dream for Resurrection Letters, Vol. I is that it would be the kind of record people turned up to eleven on Easter Sunday, when Christians all over the world celebrate something that happened—it really happened—two millennia ago,” says Peterson.

 

“But it felt odd writing about Christ’s victory over death without spending at least some time on his death itself,” he continues. “That led to the idea of Resurrection Letters: Prologue… In the spirit of Lent, the season of fasting that precedes Easter, we put together Prologue, a collection of five songs that take us from the last words of Jesus on the cross to his interment in the tomb. And then comes the long wait for Sunday morning.”

 

These “waiting songs” on Prologue are meant to remind listeners of the gravity of the crucifixion and to pique longing for the moment when morning breaks and Christ triumphs over the grave.

 

“The hope proclaimed by Scripture is that Jesus, now at the right hand of the Father, is making all things new—and that includes you and me and all of creation,” says Peterson. “My hope is that these songs would wake up a bright longing in peoples’ hearts for the coming kingdom, for our resurrection, prefigured in Christ’s.”

 

See more of Peterson’s explanation of how the three-part Resurrection Letters came about, including why Vol. II came first and why the new volume was so long in the making, in a blog post at The Rabbit Room.

 

The most congregational songs that Peterson has ever recorded, Resurrection Letters, Vol. I and Resurrection Letters: Prologue will be available as digital-only releases along with a physical-only Deluxe Edition that will combine the music of both projects.

 

The full Resurrection Letters, Vol. I and Resurrection Letters: Prologue track listings follow:

 

Resurrection Letters: Prologue

1) Last Words (Tenebrae)

2) Well Done Good and Faithful

3) The Ninth Hour

4) Always Good

5) God Rested

 

Resurrection Letters, Vol. I

1) His Heart Beats

2) Risen Indeed

3) Remember Me

4) I’ve Seen Too Much

5) Remember and Proclaim

6) Maybe Next Year

7) Rise Up

8) Is He Worthy

9) All Things Together

 

For more information about Peterson, including tour dates and more, visit www.andrew-peterson.comwww.facebook.com/andrewpetersonmusic or

www.Twitter.com/AndrewPeterson.

 

About Andrew Peterson:

Recording artist, songwriter, producer, filmmaker, publisher and award-winning author of The Wingfeather Saga series, Andrew Peterson is also host of the popular creative community known as The Rabbit Room (www.RabbitRoom.com) and recently launched a film and TV production company, Shining Isle Productions to produce the animated film based on his bestselling books. Peterson’s latest studio album, The Burning Edge of Dawn (2015), debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard Current Contemporary Christian Top Albums Chart becoming his highest charting record to date. Known for songs like “Dancing In The Minefields,” “Be Kind To Yourself,” “The Reckoning,” “Don’t You Want To Thank Someone,” “The Silence Of God,” “Nothing To Say,” “You’ll Find Your Way” and more, Peterson has also been named “one of the foremost singer/songwriters around” and has received multiple “best album of the year” nods from critics along with two Dove Award nominations. Taking his hits and fan favorites on the road, Peterson’s touring draws capacity crowds at venues around the world, including several sold-out events at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.

 

About Centricity Music: 

Centricity is an independent Christian music company based in Franklin, Tenn. Founded in 2005 with a commitment to artist development and stylistic diversity, its artist roster includes Aaron Shust, Andrew Peterson, Carrollton, For All Seasons, Jason Gray, JJ Weeks Band, Jonny Diaz, Jordan Feliz, Lauren Daigle, Neon Feather, North Point InsideOut and Unspoken. Providing label and publishing services, Centricity is a family-owned organization, and they like it that way. The committed work of its staff and artists has yielded successes such as Grammy nominations, Billboard Awards, Dove Awards, K-Love Fan Awards, a Gold Album and Gold Singles. For more information on Centricity Music, visit​www.centricitymusic.com.