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Monday, April 6, 2020
O sacred head, now wounded,
with grief and shame weighed down;
now scornfully surrounded
with thorns, thine only crown;
O sacred head, what glory,
what bliss till now was thine!
Yet, though despised and gory,
I joy to call thee mine.
“O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” (v. 1)
translation by James Waddell Alexander (1830)
Hymn 221, Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal
This is the first verse of a hymn based on a poem attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux, an eleventh-century monk. A Benedictine, he wrote it as a Holy Week meditation on the body of Christ crucified. This version, translated into English by Presbyterian minister James Alexander in 1830, is the one most well known in the United States.
Of all of our Lenten hymns, this one contains the most visceral depiction of Jesus’ suffering, from the description of Jesus’ head, crowned with thorns and weighed down with grief and shame, to the use of the word gory in the penultimate line. It has always kind of shocked me. Certainly, the poet isn’t pulling any punches, describing Jesus’ suffering so specifically. I think the poet meant to shock us—to jolt us out of our everyday experience. At our 2000-plus year remove from the life of Jesus on earth, it is almost impossible for us to fully grasp the level of physical suffering, as well as the mental anguish, that Jesus underwent as he was betrayed, denied, tried, and convicted.
Singing this hymn is a meditation on that suffering, putting us in a position to more fully appreciate the reality of what we every week profess to believe when we repeat the Apostles’ Creed: “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried.”“ As we move through this week toward Good Friday, let us meditate on the suffering of Jesus on that day.
Dear God, in this Holy Week, as we approach Good Friday and the crucifixion, help us to quiet our minds and focus on you. Help us to shut out the distractions of our daily lives and consider the suffering of Christ on our behalf, preparing our hearts for the glory of your resurrection. Amen.
Written by Juli Crabtree, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church
Reflection and Prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church
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