Jerusalema, a song, a beat, a prayer to God

Over the past few months, during the COVID-19 pandemic, a song called Jerusalema produced by South African DJ Master KG has trended like wildfire on social media (more than 200 million views). Fellow Africans from Angola danced to it in a video, which is now known as #JerusalemaDance. Later it resulted in a #JerusalemaDanceChallenge on TikTok. On YouTube, we can watch nuns, priests, friars, young and old people who accepted the #JerusalemaDanceChallenge. The song is a hit all over the world. It spent many months on the top 10 lists in many countries.

Master KG said: “I actually made a beat first, and then after making it, I thought it was very spiritual. I remember, I kept listening to it again and again and I felt it was something spiritual about it. So, I called my sister Nomcebo Zikode. We sat down together in the studio and I told her that I want this to be spiritual, and then we just laid down ideas. And then the Jerusalema came out.”

The first line of the song Jerusalema is taken from an old gospel hymn, titled Jerusalema Ikhaya Lami (Jerusalem My Home), from the Methodist Church hymnbook. It is written in Xhosa a language from South Africa. The rest of the lyrics are the creation of Master KG and Nomcebo.

Master KG refers to Jerusalem as his home in this present life, with his people, his culture, and his country. But the original gospel hymn celebrates the promise of the New Jerusalem. In Revelation we can read that John saw, “A new heaven and a new earth, the New Jerusalem.” (Revelation 21:1). John’s vision looks forward to the day when God will once again dwell among His people. This could be linked with the reminder in Hebrews 13:14, “Here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.”

In both the old gospel hymn and Master KG’s new song, Jerusalema is a desire and a call to all people to live in unity and peace. Yet daily we are confronted by fighting and unrest. We face social and economic gaps, ideological and political walls, cultural and racial divisions. It seems like we cannot understand each other any longer. All kinds of derisive words and insults are permitted against those who do not think like us. Is this really the world that God dreams for us? 

Jerusalema is a kind of gospel song which invites us to look at our home and walk together with our brothers and sisters. It does not matter if their culture, language, race, or political opinions are different than ours. Nigerian musician Burna Boy, who made a remix of Jerusalema, said, “We long for a world where peace, love, and happiness reign. A world without fighting. My hope is that it unites us through our divisions and misunderstandings.”

Fratelli Tutti, the last encyclical letter of Pope Francis, aims to promote a universal aspiration toward fraternity and social friendship. Pope Francis wrote that the Covid-19 global health emergency has helped demonstrate that no one can face life in isolation. The time has truly come to dream as a single human family in which we are all brothers and sisters (FT n⁰ 8).

Jerusalema is the New Jerusalem. It is the Heaven we need to build from here. Heaven begins on earth. Pope Benedict XVI said: “In fact, being united to Christ, in the Church, does not negate ones’ personality, but opens it, transforms it with the power of love, and confers on it, already here on earth, an eternal dimension.” (Benedict XVI Homily of All Saints Vatican City, Nov 1, 2012)

Since I would like to highlight the theological meaning of the original hymn. I would like to invite all Christians to go beyond the beat and the choreography of Jerusalema. I would like to invite you to think of God’s promise of the New Jerusalem, where we will dwell with God in heaven, as He dwells with us here, in this present life.

Prayer to the Creator by Pope Francis (FT 287):

Lord, Father of our human family,
you created all human beings equal in dignity:
pour forth into our hearts a fraternal spirit
and inspire in us a dream of renewed encounter,
dialogue, justice, and peace.

Move us to create healthier societies
and a more dignified world,
a world without hunger, poverty, violence, and war.

May our hearts be open
to all the peoples and nations of the earth.
May we recognize the goodness and beauty
that you have sown in each of us,
and thus, forge bonds of unity, common projects,
and shared dreams. Amen.

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