Friday, April 22, 2011

Holy Week Hymns: O Sacred Head, Now Wounded

 This year, each day of Holy Week, I will post one hymn, with a meditation or explanation afterward.  Some will be hymns I have written; others will be ones I just find meaningful.  I hope you will join me each day, at least to read the hymn if you don't want to take the time for the prose that follows it. 

O Sacred Head, Now Wounded

O sacred Head now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down;
Now scornfully surrounded, with thorns Thy only crown;
O sacred Head, what glory, what bliss till now was thine,
Yet, though despised and gory, I joy to call Thee mine.

What Thou, my Lord has suffered was all for sinners’ gain.
Mine, Mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior, ‘tis I deserve Thy place.
Look on me with Thy favor; vouchsafe to me Thy grace.

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest Friend,
For this, Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.

Be near when I am dying, O show Thy cross to me;
And for my succor flying, Come, Lord, to set me free;
These eyes, new faith receiving from Jesus shall not move;
For he who dies believing, dies safely, through Thy love.

I had mixed feelings about featuring “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” on this blog.  On the one hand, it’s more or less the classic Good Friday hymn, which means most Christians already know it.  On the other hand, it’s a classic for a reason, and I think it is theologically correct and emotionally powerful.  As you may have noticed, I compromised by using a different translation from the one found in most hymnals.

Like several of the hymns I’ve featured, this one is powerful enough in itself that I don’t think it really needs commentary.  However, I’ll point out a few lines that I find particularly moving.

In the first verse, I like the rhyme between “glory” and “gory” because the words sound so similar but have such drastically different meanings.  It draws attention to the paradox I’ve been pointing out all week between Jesus as God and Jesus as the suffering servant.  The end of the first verse adds a powerful emotional twist with the line “I joy to call Thee mine.”  Generally, when I sing this hymn, joy is not my primary emotion (to use a drastic understatement).  However, by adding that line, the hymn reminds us that this suffering actually led to our salvation, which is something we can and should rejoice in.

I think this hymn’s greatest strength lies in its expression of the singer’s reaction to the events it describes.  I particularly like the lines “Lo here I fall, my Savior; ‘tis I deserve thy place,” and “Let me never, never outlive my love to Thee”.

The final verse does not show up in most hymnals; in fact I had never seen it before I found “O Sacred Head” in the anthology that gave me this translation.  Maybe it’s because I’m so young, but I don’t think this verse is as generally applicable as the others, since it focuses on death.  I suppose, though, that none of us really knows when we will die, so it is important to have the right attitude toward this possibility.  I like the phrase “dies safely” because it seems contradictory but actually expresses an important truth.  Since people are eternal beings, death is not the worst thing that can happen to us, so if we believe in Christ, we can be safe even when we die. 

Overall, I think that “O Sacred Head” is worth meditating on as an expression both of Christ’s love for us and of the love we should have for Him.

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