“O Sacred Head, Sore Wounded”
Good Friday, April 19, 2019
Fr. Guillermo A. Arboleda - St. Matthew’s, Savannah
Text: John 18:1-19:42
Christians have memorialized the Cross in many ways, but most especially through worship and music. One of the more famous hymns about the Cross is one that we studied during Sunday School a few weeks ago. Johann Sebastian Bach set an arrangement for “O Sacred Head” that became the centerpiece of his famous chorale “St. Matthew’s Passion.” It is preserved in our Hymnal as Hymn #163. I invite you to look at that hymn and sing it with me (verses 1-3 only).
1 O sacred head, sore wounded,
defiled and put to scorn;
O kingly head, surrounded
with mocking crown of thorn:
what sorrow mars thy grandeur?
Can death thy bloom deflower?
O countenance whose splendor
the hosts of heaven adore!
2 Thy beauty, long-desirèd,
hath vanished from our sight;
thy power is all expirèd,
and quenched the light of light.
Ah me! for whom thou diest,
hide not so far thy grace:
show me, O Love most highest,
the brightness of thy face.
3 In thy most bitter passion
my heart to share doth cry,
with thee for my salvation
upon the cross to die.
Ah, keep my heart thus movèd
to stand thy cross beneath,
to mourn thee, well-belovèd,
yet thank thee for thy death.
This hymn asks many questions that make sense to ask on Good Friday. The death of Jesus was no ordinary death. It was a shameful, excruciating experience for him and for all his followers. The cross was a government- sponsored torture device reserved for the worst of criminals. The cross was used to torture and kill traitors to the Emperor. The Cross was everyone’s worst nightmare.
As we stare up at the broken body of Jesus, hanging on the Cross, we might ask Jesus, “Can death thy bloom deflower?” Can death destroy you? Can the mocking crown of thorns strip you of all pride and dignity? Can God be defeated, even by the worst of human sin and worldly evils?
Thanks to Easter, we know the answer to be no. Even on the way to the Cross, Jesus shows himself to be stronger than the human powers.
In the garden, Jesus’ words cause the arresting soldiers to fall to the ground (John 18:6)
Jesus talks back to the high priest, boldly declaring that he is right and has done nothing wrong (18:23)
Jesus teaches Pilate about his kingdom, how it’s not like other kingdoms in the world (18:36)
Jesus stands by the truth that he preaches; if you believe in truth then you’ll listen to Jesus, though Pilate refuses (18:37-38)
He accepted the title King of the Jews; even though he knew they were mocking him, it was true (19:19-21)
Jesus took care of his mother, giving orders to one of the disciples to care for her while he hung on the Cross (19:26-27)
Jesus never gives up, even unto death. He does not lose hope even when his whole world was crumbling down around him. His friends could betray, abandon, and deny him; his priests could lie about him; his government could condemn, torture, and kill him; but none of that could break Jesus. Even as his “beauty ... vanished from our sight”, Jesus remained faithful and strong. Even in his death, there was a “brightness of [his] face” for all of us to see. We mournful sinners, sorry as we are for the sin that killed our Lord, can still hope in him. We can trust in the saving mercy of Jesus and the powerful love that overcomes death.
Jesus was not the first to be crucified, and he would not be the last. We don’t remember most of their names, but we remember Jesus. We believe that something surprising and miraculous happened when Jesus of Nazareth was crucified. We believe that Jesus was the Christ and that he was “God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God.” That means that God was doing something special for us in and through the horrible death we remember today. God met our sins and all the evil we could muster, but it was not enough.
The Cross is not the end of the story. Even as tonight we remain present with Jesus’ death and defeat, we must keep our eyes fixed on the glory to come on Easter morning. Death cannot hold Jesus down; death cannot defeat God. As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “death has been swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor 15:54). We can embrace the sorrow of the Cross, mourning our sins that placed him there, all the while trusting that new life is coming. Amen.