Radiohead & the Crucifixion of Jesus

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The penultimate song on Radiohead’s last album, The King of Limbs, is entitled ‘Give up the Ghost’.

It’s a tender song, a sparse hymn atop a simply strummed guitar riff, undergirded by a sampled repeated chant, and some quiet swirling static.

‘Give Up The Ghost’ is an old saying for the moment of death. It’s most famously used several times in the King James Version of the Bible, particularly in each of the four gospels, to describe Jesus’ final moment of life on the cross:

“When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost” (John 19:30)

This image of Christ on the cross resonates with singer Thom Yorke’s lyric:

Gather up the lost and sold
In your arms
Gather up the pitiful
In your arms
What seems impossible
In your arms
I think I have had my fill
In your arms
I think I should give up the ghost
In your arms
(‘Don’t hurt me’ repeated throughout)

The Christian understanding is that Jesus, nailed to a cross, is taking the consequences of the world’s sin upon himself in this moment. That his death is the greatest act of grace in history, paying the price for sin, evil and it’s consequences.

Yorke’s lyric seems to evoke Christ on the cross, gathering up the ‘lost’ the ‘sold’ and the ‘pitiful’, in his act of sacrifice, enabling salvation, and redemption. Helping people become ‘found’.

It’s the ultimate culmination of love & justice – he does what we cannot do. The ‘what seems impossible’ Yorke evokes seems to hark at this – how can God do this? How can One pay the price for the ‘Many?

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The looped, quiet refrain of ‘Don’t hurt me’ is perhaps a reminder that Jesus was fully human and fully divine. Close to the moment see the night before his death, as he prays in the garden of Gethsemene:

‘….. he threw himself on the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.’ (Matt 26:39)

This moment gives us the humanity of Jesus, knowing well the suffering ahead, and yet willing to do the will of God.

Even lyric ‘I think I have had my fill’ continues these biblical connotations, having chosen to drink from the this cup.

The repeated refrain of ‘In your arms’ resonates too, with the Gospel of Luke’s record of Christ’s final words: “And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into your hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost” (Luke 23:46)

As brutal as it seems, this is a moment where God reaches out to us, reaching through the blood and death to grasp us.

I’m not necessarily suggesting Radiohead have written this song specifically about the crucifixion, but I love to see where the larger story of God through Jesus Christ seeps into our culture, resonating through the arts in particular.

All other stories point to this Story. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the moment of which all of history pivots.

There are some beautiful live versions of the song online, even superior to the recorded version as York’s voice is looped live, and he builds layers of harmony.