O SACRED HEAD, NOW WOUNDED
Attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux, 1091–1153
Translated into German by Paul Gerhardt, 1607–1676
Translated into English by James W. Alexander, 1804–1859
And when they had plaited a crown of thorns, they put it upon His head, and a reed in His right hand; and they bowed the knee before Him, and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spit upon Him, and took the reed, and smote Him on the head. (Matthew 27:29, 30 KJV)
It is difficult to join our fellow believers each Lenten season in the singing of this passion hymn without being moved almost to tears. For more than 800 years these worshipful lines from the heart of a devoted medieval monk have portrayed for parishioners a memorable view of the suffering Savior.
This remarkable text has been generally attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux, the very admirable abbot of a monastery in France. Forsaking the wealth and ease of a noble family for a life of simplicity, holiness, prayer, and ministering to the physical and spiritual needs of others, Bernard was one of the most influential church leaders of his day. Martin Luther wrote of him, “He was the best monk that ever lived, whom I admire beyond all the rest put together.”
“O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” was part of the final portion of a lengthy poem that addressed the various parts of Christ’s body as He suffered on the cross. The seven sections of the poem considered His feet, knees, hands, side, breast, heart, and face. The stanzas of the hymn were translated into German in the 17th century and from German into English in the 19th century. God has preserved this exceptional hymn, which has led Christians through the centuries to more ardent worship of His Son.
O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down, now scornfully surrounded with thorns Thy only crown; how art Thou pale 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 Savior! ’Tis I deserve Thy place; look on me with Thy favor; vouch-safe 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 to Thee!
For Today: Isaiah 53; Matthew 27:39–43; Philippians 2:8; 1 Peter 3:18
Ponder anew your suffering Savior; then commit your life more fully to Him. Allow these musical truths to help you in your meditation—