Not many songs bring me closer to the cross than this ancient hymn penned by a shrouded, unknown figure and set to music sometime in around 1600. Bach himself composed the harmony, but the text is what tears at my heart. Thought to have been based somewhat on a poem by Bernard of Clairvaux, the intensely personal nature of the words calls each of us to examine the cross and its implications for our faith, our life.
The final verse begs, “What language shall I borrow, to thank thee dearest friend…Lord let me never, never…outlive my love to Thee.” If I’m honest I wonder:
- Is Christ truly my dearest friend?
- Do I feel a loss for words–that language is inept or even incapable of expressing my gratitude?
- Is my first and foremost desire to never outlive my love for Jesus?
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, has 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. 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 for thee.