This richly evocative hymn, full of biblical allusion, was written by Graham Kendrick for Spring Harvest in 1983. It was, he said. “a challenge to explore the vision of Christ as the servant…but who was also the Creator of the Universe.” In the first verse we address Christ, in wonder at the paradox of his incarnation: a helpless babe, yet from heaven; he entered our world, his glory veiled; not to be served but to serve (cf Mt 20:28) and to give his life that we might live. The emphasis on the verb “live” moves us on to the refrain which picks up the vision in acclamation. The designation “Servant King” is repeated twice, the capital letters heightening the paradoxical role of this glorious being to whom we offer our lives in worship (cf Hebrews 13:15). But what does giving his life that we might live entail? Each one of us, personally, now contemplates Jesus keeping vigil in Gethsemane, the “garden of tears” – but whose tears? Jesus’s? Certainly Mt 26: 37 would appear to suggest that. But in this context, might the tears also be ours? the universe’s? or perhaps all of these together? The allusiveness makes the phrase all the more powerful. In that place of unbearable grief, Jesus “chose to bear my heavy load”. It is a heavy load for us and a heavy load for him. We are reminded of the ritual (Leviticus 16:10) where the High Priest sent a goat, laden with the sins of the people, away to die in the wilderness. For Jesus also bore our sins, Jesus also had to die outside the camp, outside the city gate (Hebrews 13:11-12); but Jesus was High Priest and scapegoat rolled into one. He actively chose to bear my burden of sin. His sacrifice was once and for all (Hebrews 9: 25-28). And through his death and ascension, we have an advocate in heaven and just standing before God (Romans 8). Jesus’s words, as quoted, have a certain ambivalence. In Mt 26:39, they are clearly addressed to God but in the context of the hymn, might they also be addressed to us? Is there some sense in which our will also brought Jesus to Gethsemane? Verse three takes us to the other side of Golgotha; we call others to “come see” his hands and his feet as Thomas did (John 20:27), observing with exquisite poignancy how “hands that flung stars into space” with the joyful abandon of the creator of the universe (Colossians 1:15-16), had surrendered to cruel nails – the cruelty transferred from the people who drove in nails to the nails themselves. But “come see” is also the classic call to discipleship (John 1:39,46; 4:29). And the hymn ends with the determination to serve one another as servants of Christ (John 13:14-15; Mt 25: 34-40) as we enthrone him as king in our lives.
Gracious God, You bring forth springs in wasteland and turn despair to hope. Raise us up with Christ, a new creation, and bring us to glorify your name by following faithfully where he has led. We ask this through Christ, our Servant-King, our deliverance, our hope and our joy. Amen.
The Rev’d Fleur Houston is a retired minister and member of Macclesfield & Bollington URC.