When Johnny Cash sang lyrics written by others, he took possession of the words as though they were autobiographical. A great example of this is his cover of Nine Inch Nails' gut-wrenching ballad "Hurt." Another example is Cash's recording of Kris Kristofferson's "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down."
The Kristofferson song presents a firsthand account of a man who wakes up on a Sunday morning hungover from yet another night of hard living. He drinks two beers for breakfast, puts on his "cleanest dirty shirt," and heads out the door. As the man walks around the town, everything he sees and hears reminds him of earlier days and simpler pleasures: church, playgrounds, and fryin' chicken.
In the park I saw a daddy
With a laughing little girl that he was swinging.
And I stopped beside a Sunday school
And listened to the songs they were singing.
What at first appears to be a sentimental journey down memory lane develops into some real soul-searching. There used to be something substantial and real in this man's life---something left behind but not forgotten.
Then I headed down the street,
And somewhere far away a lonely bell was ringing,
And it echoed through the canyon
Like the disappearing dreams of yesterday.
On a Sunday morning sidewalk,
I'm wishing, Lord, that I was stoned.
'Cause there's something in a Sunday
That makes a body feel alone.
Sharing more than just a similar name, Edward Hopper's painting Sunday (1926) expresses this same sense of aloneness. A man sits on the vacant sidewalk of a business avenue. There is no fellowship of humanity. There is no press of flesh or words of welcome. This being a Sunday in the 1920s, the stores are not even open. The man holds nothing but his thoughts and his cigar, and neither brings him joy.
Yellow paint usually depicts joy, radiance, and life. In this painting, however, the yellow, brown, and black create a melancholy mood, a sadness from which the man (and even the viewer) cannot escape.
Have you lived long enough to experience the profound difference between solitude and loneliness? A harried mother of toddlers seeks solitude, but a widow with few visitors longs to escape loneliness. This business of being alone is either freedom or prison, depending on one's ability to make it go away.
When the church lives out the biblical metaphor "household of God" (1 Peter 3:15), the lonely, alienated, guilt-ridden, washed-up, and washed-out find a welcome refuge. The gospel of Jesus brings redemption, reconciliation with God and man, and a renewal of what God designed us to be.
Have you looked to Jesus for redemption from sin? If so, are you experiencing the weekly fellowship of the saints in a local church? Sundays should not be lonely days.
Hopper's painting portrays the reality of loneliness, striking even in an urban setting with buildings all around. Being in close proximity to people is not the same as being close to people. The multitude of faces can serve to mock those trapped in loneliness.
O church, let us raise our eyes and see the men, women, and children who need a joy that brings uplift both here and for eternity. This joy is unrelated to material possession or physical health, but is instead found in real friendship based on shared gospel belief. This is the gospel of Christ who said, "Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today" (Luke 19:5).
Christians, are we opening our mouths and telling others of this gospel? When God's grace changed us from sinners into saints, he made us part of the body of Christ. We share in the fellowship of Christ and his sufferings.
The "disappearing dreams of yesterday" may be gone, but there is a present-day redemption and a sure hope of eternal life through Jesus Christ.