O Sacred Head Sore Wounded (Passion Chorale) RS 220 Paul Gerhardt (1607-76)
O sacred Head, sore wounded, with grief and shame weighed down; O royal head surrounded with thorns, thine only crown; O Lord of life and glory, what bliss ’til now was thine! I read the wondrous story, I joy to call thee mine.
2 What thou, my Lord, hast suffered was all for sinners’ gain: mine, mine was the transgression, but thine the deadly pain. By this thy bitter Passion Good Shepherd think on me; vouchsafe to me compassion, unworthy though I be.
3 For this thy dying sorrow, O Jesus, dearest Friend, what language shall I borrow to thank thee without end? O make me thine forever; and should I fainting be, Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to thee.
4: Be near when I am dying, and show thy cross to me that I, for succour flying, may rest my eyes on thee. My Lord, thy grace receiving, let faith my fears dispel, that I may die believing, and in thee Lord, die well.
And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him.
I have always wanted to preach on a hymn but never had the courage. Yet hymns can contain wonderful words and images – words and images we may find easier to understand than some Scripture and for me, this hymn is one of them. It speaks to what scares us most as humans, death. We are mortal; we have a finite time on earth and yet we don’t like to think about it, let alone talk about it. We almost pretend that we will live forever, but despite medical advances – we won’t!
We know we are not worthy of the sacrifice of Jesus yet still, Jesus died for me, he died for you; he died your annoying neighbour, he even died for that person in church you really don’t like. But it’s not just that Jesus died, it’s what went with the dying – the torture, the mocking, the ridicule and the abandonment by his friends and by God too.
To an extent. Jesus death was a result of power politics and the Romans, well, they may mock his Messiahship – dress him as a pretend king in purple with a crown; they may even hail him as if he were Caesar, but still Jesus goes to his death as God’s anointed.
Jesus’ death provides a ‘permanent covenant between God and humanity that can never be broken’ (The New Interpreter’s Bible) because of that, we can sing, ‘My Lord, thy grace receiving, let faith my fears dispel, that I may die believing, and in thee, Lord, die well’. With faith and hope we can die well knowing that there is a far better life ahead of us than we have already experienced, a life lived in the presence of our Creator God and our Risen Saviour.
Lord of life and glory, It is hard to think of our own death, yet we know that we can live life now thanks to your death. As we approach this Eastertide, let us not be too hasty to avoid Good Friday, instead let us sit with your death Lord Jesus, meditating on the reality of its horror and pain, but still knowing that death will lead to new life. Amen
The Rev’d Branwen Rees, East Wales Regional Minister.