Hymn of the Week: March 28
by Mark R. Scholtz, Director of Music & Organist
St. Timothy's Episcopal Church, Creve Coeur
The Sunday of the Passion:
Palm Sunday - 28 March 2021
Sir John Stainer’s (1840-1901) sacred oratorio The Crucifixion: A Meditation on the Passion of the Holy Redeemer (1887) is the source for this week’s hymn, Cross of Jesus, Cross of sorrow (#160, The Hymnal 1982).
Stainer, organist at St Paul’s Cathedral, London, composed pieces to be sung by all sectors of society from the lowly parish church to the cathedral. He teamed-up with librettist William J. Sparrow-Simpson (1859-1952), vicar of St Mark’s, Regent’s Park, in creating this musical meditation for Holy Week. The oratorio’s popularity and longevity might well be its design to be performed by modest forces: four-part choir (without complex polyphony), organ accompaniment, only two soloists (tenor and bass), and splendid hymns for the congregation.
Our hymn, the fifth movement in the oratorio, appropriately titled The mystery of the divine humiliation, focuses, as Chris Fenner writes in Hymnology Archive, “on the seeming incongruity of a God and King being crucified for sinful humans.”
Very God Himself is bearing
All the sufferings of time!
Of the original ten stanzas, only four have been included in our Hymnal. Two, in particular, which found their way to the floor of the editing room, deserve mention:
This – all human thought surpassing –
This is earth’s most awful hour.
God has taken mortal weakness!
God has laid aside His power!
From the “Holy, Holy, Holy,
We adore Thee, O most High!”
Down to earth’s blaspheming voices
And the shout of “Crucify.”
Jeremy Dibble, in his biography of Stainer, felt that this hymn was “arguably the finest” of the hymns in the The Crucifixion, with “a robust melody full of passing modulations and effective sequence.”
John Stainer died in Verona, Italy, 31 March 1901: Palm Sunday.
Here is a recording of a slightly longer version of this beautiful hymn in the vast acoustic of St Paul’s Cathedral, London: