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—
Osbeck, K. W.
- Who will believe our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? But he shall grow up before him as a branch, and as a root out of a dry ground; he hath neither form nor beauty: when we shall see him, there shall be no form that we should despise him. He is despised and rejected of men: he is a man full of sorrows, and hath experience of infirmities: we hid as it were our faces from him: he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely, he hath born our infirmities, and carried our sorrows, yet we did judge him as plagued and smitten of God, and humbled. But he was wounded for our transgressions: he was broken for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes are we healed. All we like sheep have gone astray: we have turned every one to his own way, and the Lord hath laid upon him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet did he not open his mouth: he is brought as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearer is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. He was taken out from prison, and from judgment: and who shall declare his age? for he was cut out of the land of the lving: for the transgression of my people was he plagued. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no wickedness, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet the Lord would break him and make him subject to infirmities: when he shall make his soul an offering for ins, he shall see his seed and shall prolong his days, and the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisifed; by his knowledge shal my righteous servant justify many: for he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I give him a portion wiht the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he hath poured out his soul unto death; and he was counted with the transgressors, and he bare the sin of many, and prayed for the transgressors. Isaiah 53
- And they that passed by, reviled him, wagging their heads, And saying, Thou that destroyest the Temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself: if thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross. Likewise also the high Priests mocking him, with the Scribes, and Elders, and Pharisees said, He saved others, but he cannot save himself: if he be the king of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will belive in him. He trusted in God, let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God. Matthew 27:39–43
- He humbled himself, and became obedient unto the death, even the death of the cross. Philippians 2:8
- For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, and was put to death concerning the flesh, but was quickened by the spirit. 1 Peter 3:18
This is one of my favorite moden renditions of this song. Incidentally, this is a wonderful CD for worship.