I was working on the Good Friday evening service this week. For the Tenebrae or darkening part of the service I intersperse reading Jesus’ Passion from John 18-19 with stanzas from Sacred Head Now Wounded. This morning I came across something written by Madeleine L’Engle on Bach and his hymn. I’m taking her historical background material at her word.
“Bach might have been forgotten forever had not Mendelssohn discovered some monks wrapping parcels in music manuscript-and gave the St. Matthew Passion back to the world.
Bach, of course, was a man of deep and profound religious faith, a faith which shines through his most secular music. As a matter of fact, the melody of his moving chorale, O Sacred Head Now Wounded, was the melody of a popular street song of the day, but Bach’s religious genius was so great that it is now recognized as one of the most superb pieces of religious music ever written.
There is nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred.”
The following is my favorite stanza of the hymn:
What language can I borrow
To thank you, dearest friend,
For this your dying sorrow,
Your mercy without end?
Bind me to you forever,
Give courage from above;
Let not my weakness sever
Your bond of lasting love.