Our journey through Lent continues this week with one of my favourite hymn tunes. Another beautifully haunting melody, it has been used many times in its almost 400 year history to express the deeply personal experience of acknowledging one’s humanity in light of a Divine gift; the sacrifice of one in aid of another. The example of providing for someone in need at great cost, regardless of what is deserved.
Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended,
that mortal judgement hath on thee descended?
By foes derided, by thine own rejected,
O most afflicted!
The words, written by Johann Heerman in 1630, were published in his collection entitled Devoti Musica Cordis, or music for a devout heart. This book of poetic hymn texts was subtitled as Haus und Hertz-musica (music for home and heart), and were meant for personal not public use. These words were not for public proclamations, they were for quiet, internal reflection.
Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee!
‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee;
I crucified thee.
This is difficult subject matter. I think that no matter what you believe or how you interpret the specifics of these words, acknowledging one’s own culpability for that which is wrong is challenging. Facing up to our individual responsibility towards what is evil, unethical or immoral, is hard. Finding a way through the darkness that exists, whether we choose to look at it or not, is unpleasant. It requires us to look at both our action and inaction with different eyes than the ones that are comfortably ours.
And yet, there is a light to be found in the looking. I am often surprised to find that facing darkness is a way to see light. Sounds a bit corny, but the light at the end of the tunnel can only be found because we were courageous enough to walk through the tunnel. This hymn speaks to the undeserved salvation that Christ gives, a belief many hold dear. But it also provides a glimpse into the idea that undeserved kindness and love brings us to the light, both as givers and receivers. So while we face the darkness in our world and hope in doing so, to find our salvation, we also have an opportunity to shed light on the path for others along the way. Not because any of us deserve it, but simply because the light exists.
Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay thee,
I do adore thee, and will ever pray thee,
think on thy pity and thy love unswerving,
not my deserving.