Ah, Holy Jesus
March 29, 2012Dr. Russell Richey was the professor at the Duke Divinity School who taught me Methodist History and Polity, but also something more. Dr. Richey would open every class reading the words of the Wesley hymns. Later we would hear about how the Wesley's wrote no systematic theology. Rather John wrote sermons and journals. And Charles, the sometimes overlooked brother, wrote hymns. The theology of grace spoken by the Wesleys is the lyrical invitation to know and love Christ. The hymns speak faith beyond an ordered system.... straight to the heart. The hymns are frequently my prayer. My piano serves as the altar; the bench, my prayer bench. I play and sing until the voice fades and the tears come. The words sometimes so move me to a holy place it is hard to describe. Piano players will know what I am talking about. From the page in the book come statements of faith that moved a person's heart to write. Through the ages when a pianist plays and sings, faith is stoked anew. Such is especially true as particular hymns that have touched me continue to do so. There is a short list: How Beautiful the Body of Christ - I don't remember the first time I heard this hymn. But every time I hear it, even just the melody, I am taken to a place of seeing the Christ who came as a baby with baby skin and baby smells and baby sounds .... to a place of seeing Christ sweaty and suffering, beaten and bloody.... to a stone rolled back and a body I do not quite recognize, until he calls my name. My Jesus, I Love Thee - this is the one I marked in my hymnal as one I want sung at my funeral... "If ever I loved thee, my Jesus 'tis now." Just as I Am - This was Daddy's favorite hymn. I can't sing it without crying. The Strouds would gather like the old country song... "Daddy sang bass, Mama sang tenor.." Actually Mother played the piano with Laine as soprano, Richard as tenor, Daddy as bass, and Libby as alto. We were quite Von Trapp-ish. Silent Night was also one of the Stroud favorites. "All is calm; all is bright." And the candles are lit in the sanctuary and the quiet is a blanket of peace. But my personal prayer for Lent is in the hymn, "Ah, Holy Jesus." I love the Passion hymns. They evoke in me such love of God who loves all of us enough to send Jesus. Verse 2 was especially meaningful as I prayed, played, and sang this week. This is a 16th century hymn that still has such power and relevance in the world. "Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee? Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee! 'Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee; I crucified thee." I couldn't sing beyond that. I looked at my hands on the keys. I, who have been crucifier and occasionally "crucified" am being called to look closely at these hands, this life. Where have I been denier? Crucifier? Where have I been the one at the foot of the cross bargaining for his garments? Where have I sold out or bought in? Thank God for the last verse! "Think on thy pity and thy love unswerving..... not my deserving." Not my deserving indeed. Holy Week begins on Sunday. There will be "hosannas" and palms and a parade. But before you put on the Easter dress, enter the passion. Whether you play the piano or not, read the hymns of passion. Pray the words for your own life that you and all of us may come to Easter with a new thanksgiving and a new clarity about who we are called to be and how we are called to live. Ah, Holy Jesus, how can I thank you enough?