Today is Good Friday, an annual remembrance throughout the Christian world of the death of Jesus. To be honest, I don’t often like to think about Jesus’ death – I mean really think about it. I can think about it theologically or in theory just fine. I just don’t like to picture it. I don’t like to place myself there at the foot of that bloody cross.
I get terribly disturbed by violent shows or movies. I’ve never watched Game of Thrones, and I can’t even watch a lot of the superhero shows. I don’t like feeling disturbed! I prefer to feel peaceful and safe. Much more disturbing than the fictional worlds of our film industry is the very real violence that happened to Jesus, Son of God, Son of Man.
But I cannot keep my head buried in the comfy pillows of my sheltered life. As the prophet Isaiah said, predicting Jesus’ cruel death, “he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
Beauty is, indeed, pain. Who knows that better than Jesus himself, who took every ounce of my pain, my failures, the ways I hurt other people and withdraw and withhold and think myself superior, the many times I’ve petulantly or seditiously turned my back against God himself … who took all that on himself so that I could be healed?
Oh, how I would so much rather be able to earn my way into God’s favor! To be good enough – to not have to rely on the bloody death of the Son of God, to not have that evil oh so justly laid at my doorstep! This is the Pharisee in me, the part of me that says “thank God I’m not like these other sinners…”
Once again, music becomes a soul language to help my heart know the depth of my own sin and the even further depth of God’s love for me. I love this old hymn. It reminds me in a culture that has largely forgotten the word “sacred” that some things are, indeed, very sacred. The haunting melody that Bach wrote gives expression to the cry of my soul.
I have had to face death this week in a couple of heart-rending ways, different from each other but each agonizing. It reminds me on this Good Friday that the reason we call a holy day that remembers such a horrific event “good” is because this world is painful, but Jesus has paid the way for us to move into his beautiful, life-giving Presence. Who could stand the suffering of this life without His strength, peace, and love upholding us?
The lyrics that have always struck me from this song are the following two lines:
Mine, mine was the transgression, but thine the deadly pain.
What language can I borrow to thank you, dearest friend?
May you find rest in the price He has paid for you today.
O Sacred Head, now wounded
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 Saviour!
‘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 for ever;
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.
(Verse 4 not on the Fernando Ortega recording below)