Lenten Hymns and their Story

March 08, 2023

“Cross of Jesus, Cross of Sorrow”

The hymn is from the “Crucifixion”, an oratorio by John Stainer [1840-1901] that premiered at St. Marylebone parish in London. The lead voice was the priest W.J. Sparrow Simpson, well known in London, for his heaven-sent voice.
This hymn directs the singer to the infinite God-man, Jesus Christ, using a series of paradoxes. Verse 1 calls the tree of Golgotha a “cross of sorrow”, recalling the words of Isaiah 53:4, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.” It is sorrowful because the only perfect One to have ever lived died on a cross, and because God, who as a spirit cannot bleed, nonetheless became man, that He might die on the cross.
Verse 2 opens with eternal God on His throne bathed in light, but then, in another paradox, He is shown on the throne of the cross, with the superscription above the head reading “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” [John 19:19]. Stripped of dignity and clothing, the Son of God, robed in mortal flesh, is dying. How can this be? The answer, the writer tells us – “He was crucified for me”.
In verse 3, the singers, carried away by the enormity of the scene, cannot help but interject their own thoughts: “O mysterious condescending! O abandonment sublime!” Outside of church people do not talk in this manner. The richness of these words seems to capture something beyond human comprehension; namely, why a perfect God would descend to earth to suffer and die for the sins of His creatures.
Verse 4 repeats the first vers, emphasizing the Gospel paradox that he who suffered on the cross is “perfect man” yet also “perfect God,” who bled and died for the sin and guilt of the world.

Cross of Jesus, cross of sorrow, where the blood of Christ was shed,
Perfect Man on thee did suffer, perfect God on thee has bled

LSB 428

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