By: Don Kerr
He was despised and rejected by men. – Isaiah 53:3
Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended,
That we to judge thee have in hate pretended?
By foes derided, by thine own rejected,
O most afflicted!
Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay thee,
I do adore thee, and will ever pray thee,
Think on thy pity and thy love unswerving,
Not my deserving.
These words are the beginning and ending stanzas of the hymn, “Ah, Holy Jesus,” often sung during Lent and especially Holy Week. You’ll find it on page 289 of the United Methodist Hymnal. The words and music are almost four centuries old. It is one of my favorite hymns.
A dozen years ago, on a rainy Maundy Thursday evening, I stood in a Methodist church congregation singing the final verse. I felt a lump in my throat. I stopped singing. I looked at the pastor. His eyes watered. His bottom lip quavered. He stopped singing too. We both were moved to tears by the words describing the undeserved suffering of Christ and our rejection of Him. It was profoundly moving and almost overwhelmingly sad, and I will never forget that moment. But the sadness that night was thankfully brief: Three days later he and I would join many others in joyfully singing the uplifting words of “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today”:
Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia! Our triumphant holy day, Alleluia! Who did once upon the cross, Alleluia! Suffer to redeem our loss. Alleluia!
This hymn is also one of my favorites. The contrast between the two hymns, and my emotions, is remarkable. For me, this striking change of mood and expectation—from despair to hope, from darkness to light, from death to life—reflects the power of the risen Christ.
In this season of Lent, and into Easter, I hope your faith is enriched through the words and music of your favorite hymns.