Christian hymnody takes us through a wide range of emotions. There are joyful hymns. There are contemplative hymns. There are triumphant hymns. There are peaceful hymns. And there are mournful hymns. During the season of Lent, we get more of the contemplative and mournful hymns. But they’re not devoid of joy. They might not sound happy, but that does not mean they lack joy. They take us through sorrow and mourning to find true and lasting joy.
Consider the hymn, “O World, See Here Suspended” (Ambassador Hymnal, #79) written by Paul Gerhardt in the 1600s. He invites us to imagine the sight of the cross, and to look there in faith for our salvation. If I were to guess, I would say he was thinking of passages from the Gospel of John about the Son of Man being lifted up when he wrote this (John 3:14-15; 6:40; 8:28; 12:32).
O world, see here suspended,
His loving arms extended,
Thy Savior on the cross!
The Prince of life is willing,
All righteousness fulfilling,
To suffer anguish, scorn, and loss.
In the second verse, he asks why Jesus, the one who creates life, must suffer all this pain.
O Thou, who hearts dost quicken,
Why art Thou sorrow-stricken,
Why all this nameless pain?
While we must make confession
Of sin and dire transgression,
No sin on Thee hath left a stain.
In the third verse, he answers that question. It is because of our sin. And he personalizes it. It’s not just everyone else’s sin that bound Jesus to the cross. It’s my sin.
’Tis I who sins encumber,
Whose misdeeds far outnumber
The sands upon the shore;
I caused Thy condemnation,
Thy deep humiliation,
And all the wounds that pain Thee sore.
This thought might cause us to grieve. And while it is true, it might cause us more guilt. Not only am I guilty of all my sins, but now we have to add Jesus’ death to that list of crimes. So we also look and see what his death accomplished. It rescues us from death. As a perfect and willing sacrifice, Jesus’ death broke the spell that sin and death held us in. So death could not hold him, and it will not hold his dear children. So we look in faith to the cross. We see what’s really going on there. We see more than just a dying and condemned man. But we see this as our salvation and our source of life.
Death for a time must hold Thee,
The grave too must enfold Thee,
Lest I should be its prey;
Death, who for me had tarried,
Death now himself lies buried,
And I shall live with Thee for aye.
The peace of Christ be with you all,