Story Behind the Song: Mercy Tree

Few songs have the ability to tell a story that communicates a powerful message in such a simple way. However, the song “Mercy Tree” written by Krissy Nordhoff and Michael Neale does just that. It slowly unfolds the incredible Easter story with intimate detail, taking the heart on a journey from the agony of the cross to a triumphant “Hallelujah!”

Oftentimes, songs start out as a conversation or melody idea in small writing rooms, scribbled on napkins in coffee shops, or during a moment of worship. From this humble beginning, the song begins to grow and change, sometimes taking on new life with the ideas of another cowriter and revelation of a fresh perspective.

The song “Mercy Tree” started off as a dream centered around a single object — a tree. Writer Krissy Nordhoff describes this tree that she envisioned in the dream, “It was very large and spanned as far as you could see. Underneath the tree there was safety. It was almost like the cross…with the roots of that tree reached back to Calvary.”

She explains the significance and relevance this tree has in each of our lives, “I felt like if everyone could understand what it meant to be under that covering, everyone would be saved. There’s safety, there’s healing, there’s freedom, there’s all the things we need under this big, beautiful tree.” From this idea, a song started to take shape.

Nordhoff went on to write a complete song based on this dream. However, she still felt like something was missing, so she brought it to longtime writing partner, Michael Neale. Neale revealed to Nordhoff that the tree in the dream was the cross.

From this revelation, Nordhoff and Neale worked together over email, cutting, pasting, rewriting, and adding a new chorus. The final result was a touching story that shares the hope in knowing there’s always a place that we can find life and rest — under the mercy tree.

While the process of writing “Mercy Tree” itself is an incredible testament of Christ’s hand in the lives of His followers, this is only the beginning of the journey of the song.

Soon it caught the attention of arrangers like Daniel Semsen, Travis Cottrell, and Bradley Knight who crafted moving arrangements for congregations.

In November of 2013, the song reached a much wider audience as it was featured on the My Hope project, an evangelical video program celebrating the life of Billy Graham and the powerful impact he’s made through his ministry. As people gathered and tuned in around the country for My Hope, Lacey Sturm delivered a heart-stirring rendition of “Mercy Tree.”

Sturm explains how the song made an impact in her life personally, “Every single time I tried to sing it, I cried so hard I couldn’t get through it. Because the message is so clear and so simple.”

The profound yet simple message of the song is exactly what Mason Brown, orchestrator and arranger here at Brentwood Benson, was looking for when planning the next Simple Series Easter musical. Brown explains his immediate draw to the song’s message, “In one song, you get the entire Easter story. People who have never known Christ or are attending church for the first time can understand what He went through for us through this song. As soon as I heard it, I knew I had to use it.”

Not only did Brown decide to use the song in the upcoming Simple Series musical, but he decided to make it the title track for the entire project. What started as a single person’s dream will now be sung in America and beyond to spread a message of hope, mercy, and redemption in Christ.

While “Mercy Tree” has already been on a tremendous journey, the story isn’t over. As choirs sing it this Easter season, countless hearts will experience the grace and beauty of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection — some for the first time. The story of “Mercy Tree” shows that there’s power when God’s people come together to proclaim His immense grace and power — Hallelujah! Jesus Christ has overcome.


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