When I drive in my car (which isn’t often), I listen to some of my favorite MP3s on a CD. One of them is Selah’s rendition of “O Sacred Head,” which is one of my favorite hymns. So as I was driving to T.J. Maxx on Saturday, the song began to play and I began to worship.
Which reminds me of an internet ditty that’s been floating around. If you’ve heard it before, I’m sure the original is funnier than what you’re about to read here:
Seems a farmer went to a different church in town, where they advertised that they sang “praise choruses.” When he got home, his wife said, “So . . . what are the praise choruses like?”
The farmer scratched his head. “Well,” he finally said, “If I were writing a farmer’s hymn, I might write something like, ‘Oh, the cows are coming home tonight.'”
The wife lifted a brow. “Okay.”
“Well, a praise chorus could be about the same thing, but they’d sing it like this: ‘Oh, the cows, the cows, the cows, the brown cows . . . are coming, coming, yes coming, they’re coming home home home tonight.”
LOL! (I told you the original was funnier, but the story still makes me laugh.)
Now I like praise choruses as much as anyone, particularly if they are based in Scripture. Randy Alcorn blogged the other day about how God sings over us, and I simply adore that image. (His blog is worth the read, BTW.)
BUT–there is nothing like the beauty of some of the majestic older hymns. Read carefully and prayerfully through the following lyrics and realize that it’s not repetition or music that gives this song power, it’s the sheer poetry of the lyrics. The following is James Alexander’s version:
O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, Thine only crown;
How pale Thou art with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
How does that visage languish, which once was bright as morn!
What Thou, my Lord, hast 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.
Men mock and taunt and jeer Thee, Thou noble countenance,
Though mighty worlds shall fear Thee and flee before Thy glance.
How art thou pale with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
How doth Thy visage languish that once was bright as morn!
Now from Thy cheeks has vanished their color once so fair;
From Thy red lips is banished the splendor that was there.
Grim death, with cruel rigor, hath robbed Thee of Thy life;
Thus Thou hast lost Thy vigor, Thy strength in this sad strife.
My burden in Thy Passion, Lord, Thou hast borne for me,
For it was my transgression which brought this woe on Thee.
I cast me down before Thee, wrath were my rightful lot;
Have mercy, I implore Thee; Redeemer, spurn me not!
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.
My Shepherd, now receive me; my Guardian, own me Thine.
Great blessings Thou didst give me, O source of gifts divine.
Thy lips have often fed me with words of truth and love;
Thy Spirit oft hath led me to heavenly joys above.
Here I will stand beside Thee, from Thee I will not part;
O Savior, do not chide me! When breaks Thy loving heart,
When soul and body languish in death’s cold, cruel grasp,
Then, in Thy deepest anguish, Thee in mine arms I’ll clasp.
The joy can never be spoken, above all joys beside,
When in Thy body broken I thus with safety hide.
O Lord of Life, desiring Thy glory now to see,
Beside Thy cross expiring, I’d breathe my soul to Thee.
My Savior, be Thou near me when death is at my door;
Then let Thy presence cheer me, forsake me nevermore!
When soul and body languish, oh, leave me not alone,
But take away mine anguish by virtue of Thine own!
Be Thou my consolation, my shield when I must die;
Remind me of Thy passion when my last hour draws nigh.
Mine eyes shall then behold Thee, upon Thy cross shall dwell,
My heart by faith enfolds Thee. Who dieth thus dies well.
(From Wikipedia: The hymn is based on a long medieval Latin poem, Salve mundi salutare, with stanzas addressing the various parts of Christ’s body hanging on the Cross. The last part of the poem, from which the hymn is taken, is addressed to Christ’s head, and begins “Salve caput cruentatum.” The poem is often attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153), but it first appears in the 14th century.
The last part of the poem was translated into German by the prolific Lutheran hymnist Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676). The German hymn begins, “O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden.”
The hymn was first translated into English in 1752 by John Gambold (1711-1771), an Anglican vicar in Oxfordshire. His translation begins, “O Head so full of bruises.” In 1830 a new translation of the hymn was made by an American Presbyterian minister, James W. Alexander (1804-1859). Alexander’s translation, beginning “O sacred head, now wounded,” became one of the most widely used in 19th and 20th century hymnals.)