Here, where our Lord once laid his head,
Now the grave lies buriéd.
~ Richard Crashaw, 1613-1649
Of the King of heavenly beauty
I will sing an anthem rare:
Lily of the Valley is he,
Fairer than our flesh is fair.
Where He is, the sweetness fully
Of all graces gathers there.
Gird Thyself with kingly glory,
O Thou mighty among men:
Every foe shall fly before Thee,
Every knee to Thee shall bend.
Righteous is Thy reign, and holy,
And Thy kingdom shall not end.
All Thy garments smell of aloes
From the halls of ivory,
And Thy passing presence hallows
Every heart that longs for Thee.
Where Thou art, the virgins follow
And rejoice surpassingly.
Let me think upon no other,
Let me find no other fair:
I will leave my earthly lovers,
Father’s house and worldly care,
That this King beyond all other
May receive and love me e’er.
The Christians of the 11th century put it well:
Christians, to the paschal victim
Offer your thankful praises!
A Lamb the sheep redeemeth:
Christ, who only is sinless,
Reconcileth sinners to the Father;
Death and life have contended
In that combat stupendous;
The prince of Life, who died, reigns immortal.
Speak, Mary, declaring
What thou sawest wayfaring:
“The Tomb of Christ, who is living,
The glory of Jesus’ Resurrection:
Bright angels attesting,
The shroud and napkin resting.
Yea, Christ my hope is arisen:
To Galilee he goes before you.”
Happy they who hear the witness,
Mary’s word believing.
Above the tales of doubt and deceiving.
Christ indeed from death is risen,
Our new life obtaining.
Have mercy, victor King, ever reigning!
~ Victimae paschali, Latin, 11th c.
I shook when that Man clasped me. I dared, still, not bow to earth,
fall to earth’s fields, but had to stand fast.
Rood was I reared. I lifted a mighty King,
Lord of the heavens, dared not to bend.
With dark nails they drove me through: on me those sores are seen,
open malice-wounds. I dared not scathe anyone.
They mocked us both, we two together. All wet with blood I was,
poured out from that Man’s side, after ghost he gave up.
Much have I born on that hill
of fierce fate. I saw the God of hosts
harshly stretched out. Darknesses had
wound round with clouds the corpse of the Wielder,
bright radiance; a shadow went forth,
dark under heaven. All creation wept,
King’s fall lamented. Christ was on rood.
~ from The Dream of the Rood, Old English (8th cent.). This modern English translation is available in full at Lightspill.
I must and shall be wounded. Why? Because my groom,
My saviour, has been found with many a bleeding wound.
But why must I be wounded? I cannot abide
If we be too unlike, the bridegroom and the bride.
~ Angelus Silesius, Cherubinischer Wandersmann V.372
The royal banners forward go,
The cross shines forth in mystic glow;
Where he in flesh, our flesh who made,
Our sentence bore, our ransom paid.
There whilst he hung, his precious side
By soldier’s spear was opened wide,
To cleanse us in the precious flood
Of water mingled with his blood.
Fulfilled is now what David told
In true prophetic song of old:
That Christ the heathens’ king should be,
For God is reigning from the tree.
O Tree of glory, Tree most fair,
Ordained those holy limbs to bear:
How bright in purple robe it stood,
The purple of a Saviour’s blood.
Upon its arms, like balance true,
He weighed the price for sinners due,
The price which none but he could pay,
And spoiled the spoiler of his prey.
To thee, eternal Three in One,
Let homage meet by all be done:
As by the cross thou dost restore,
So rule and guide us evermore.
~ Venantius Fortunatus, Latin poet and bishop of the Early Church, c. 600
I’ve posted this poem recently, but it bears repeating. Today is the Anglican day of commemoration for its author–Reginald Heber, poet and once bishop of Calcutta.
Heber’s poetry is sung today all over Christendom, in both high and low churches. In evangelical circles, his most famous hymn is probably “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty.” The imaginative Christmas carol “Brightest and Best of the Sons of the Morning” is sung in at least two versions to four different tunes, all the way from Lutheran churches to Sacred Harp shape-note choirs in the American South. And the Eucharistic hymn below is sung in high Anglican and Catholic churches.
It seems an especially appropriate way to commemorate Heber in these days leading up to Holy Week.
* * * * *
Bread of the World
Bread of the world in mercy broken,
Wine of the soul in mercy shed,
By whom the words of life were spoken,
And in whose death our sins are dead:
Look on the heart by sorrow broken,
Look on the tears by sinners shed,
And be Thy feast to us the token
That by Thy grace our souls are fed.
~ Reginald Heber, 1783-1826