Monday, November 23, 2020

280. St. Mark Passion Hymn

Continuing my current project to write a distinctive hymn to accompany a Lenten sermon series on the Passion According to each of the four evangelists, I come thirdly to the second gospel, Mark. (Don't ask why I'm working my way through them from back to front.) This is the first one on which I haven't personally written and preached a sermon series. But I went through the text and thought about what I would do with it, and I came up with the idea of framing it with Jesus' question in Mark 8:27-30, "Who do men say that I am?" and Peter's faithful answer, "You are the Christ." The first two stanzas and the last stanza will be sung at all times; the in-between stanzas, which will play on the theme of what different people say about Jesus during His Passion, will be inserted when they are relevant to the day's message.

I'm using a comparatively short meter to compensate for the fact that there will be more stanzas than in the John and Luke hymns, what with Mark's account falling naturally into 11 segments – and that's after conflating the presentiment of Peter's denial, 14:27-31, with the actual event, 14:66-72. So, don't be a stickler about the length of this hymn. The purpose for which I'm writing it, and the material I'm trying to encompass in it, makes a certain length inevitable. Rather, I pray, notice the economy with which I treat this enormous narrative. Or, from another point of view, think of it as a short hymn you can use with a Passion According to Mark sermon series, only one that has a different third (and maybe fourth) stanza for each installment.

Finally, here are the titles and texts that I would assign to those sermons, right at this moment, if I was going to preach all 11 of them – although to do this, I'd have to preach one on every Sunday and Wednesday from Invocavit to Palmarum: "Tsk!" (Mark 14:1-11), "Who, Me?" (14:12-21), "Huh??" (14:22-26), "Zzzzz" 14:32-42, *Smooch* (14:43-52), "Never!" (14:27-31, 66-72), "Ptooey!" (14:53-65), "Arrgh!" (15:1-15), "Hail!" (15:16-20), "Aha!" (15:21-36), and "Alas!" (15:37-47). And so, I hope, with the help of God:

Hymn on the Lord's Passion according to St. Mark

Christ asked His pupils on the road,
"What do men say of Me?"
Their given answers only showed
What fools our race can be.
"But what say you," He said, "If I
Say I Myself must surely die?"

The voice of Jesus bids mankind
Say who He is again,
And in His passion, now, we find
The right response made plain.
We, therefore, Christ as Lord confess;
Ourselves, the race He died to bless.

One Simon wondered at the waste
When fragrant oil was poured
On Jesus' head: his "Tut!" disgraced
Such tribute to the Lord.
Then Judas joined the leaders' plan,
Who wondered how to kill this Man.

Warned that betrayal was at hand,
Not one in twelve asked why;
The burden of that fearful band
Was, "Master is it I?"
Oh, better to have died unwhelped
Than Jesus' killers to have helped!

When fed His body and His blood
At solemn Paschal meal,
None dared to ask Him how this could,
For one and all, be real:
Bemused, they sang a final hymn,
His sacrifice at work within.

While Jesus prayed in garden gloom,
His soul in deep distress,
He wrestled with His coming doom;
Submitted nonetheless;
Yet His disciples proved too weak
To wake and watch, one word to speak.

Now fawning Judas, with a kiss,
Marked Jesus for arrest:
The faithful fled in cowardice;
One showed his heels, undressed.
"This force of arms for such as I?"
Christ asked; but no one made reply.

Admonished that he would deny
His Lord by rooster's crow,
"No," Peter said, "I'd sooner die!"—
But later it was so.
His "Never!" soon amounted to:
"That man, I swear, I never knew!"

False witnesses against Him lied,
But no two could agree;
Accused and quizzed on every side,
He answered, "I am He."
At this they spat into His face
And buffeted the King of grace.

Denounced to Pilate, He stood mute.
The Roman, at a loss,
Sought some way to dismiss the suit;
But men cried, "To the cross!"
Thus Gentiles and the Jews as one
Delivered up God's only Son.

The soldiers paid Him mocking court
And worshiped Him in jest;
A laurel of the coarsest sort
Hard on His brow was pressed
Whom, had they known the King they hailed,
They had adored with awe unveiled.

Nailed to a tree with vilest jeers,
He bore sin's shame and curse.
His anguished cry rejoiced men's ears;
God's silence struck still worse.
Yet while His foes cried out, "Oho!"
His struggle dealt death's dying blow.

With His last breath He tore the veil,
Set God and man at one.
A Roman soldier knew the tale;
He recognized God's Son.
The faithful, slower to believe,
Entombed Him and set in to grieve.

Lord Jesus Christ, not long to sleep,
We glorify Your name.
Let us Your good confession keep
And speak it without shame.
Whatever men may rashly speak,
Yours is the blessing we will seek.

UPDATE: Here are two existing tunes that I think would go nicely with this hymn. First, in alphabetical order, there's ERFURT by L. Herman Ilse, 1910, which the Evangelical Lutheran Hymn-Book and The Lutheran Hymnal both set to the hymn "Let songs of praises fill the sky."
Second, there's O JESU, WARUM LEGST DU MIR, attributed to Johann B. Reimann (1702-49) in the Evangelisches Gesangbuch, Hirschberg, 1741. It's been used with "I look to thee in every need" in Service Book and Hymnal, and with "Lord of my life, whose tender care" in TLH and Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal.

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