Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Though Empires Rise and Fall

Note: I unabashedly adore Good Friday music, so even though today is only Spy Wednesday, I'm going to start on a series of posts about Good Friday hymns.

Fred Pratt Green is one of my father's favorite hymn writers, and there's a Fred Pratt Green hymn to a tune called Kingsfold that I really like: "To Mock Your Reign, O Dearest Lord." Let's take this verse by verse:

To mock your reign, O dearest Lord
They made a crown of thorns
Set you with taunts along that road
From which no one returns.
They could not know, as we do now
How glorious is that crown;
That thorns would flower upon your brow,
Your sorrows heal our own.

The first bit of this that particularly sticks out to me is "that road from which no one returns." Death wasn't something from which people returned. Crucifixion was painful punishment, and it was final. But Christ did return. We need no longer fear that road because in Christ, it's not an ending.

The other part I really like is this: "They could not know, as we do now, how glorious is that crown." Going through the next few verses we'll see that the beginning part of that line is repeated, but this is my favorite time it's used. A crown is normally a thing of glory, but this was a crown of thorns, used to mock, to make humble, to bring low -- and yet, Jesus is King of Kings. That crown was the most glorious of all, not the least.

Here's the second verse:
In mock acclaim, O gracious Lord
They snatched a purple cloak;
Your passion turned, for all they cared
Into a soldier's joke.
They could not know, as we do now
That thought we merit blame,
You will your robe of mercy throw
Around our naked shame.

I love that Fred Pratt Green makes the transformation of the taunts so clear. The crown of thorns is glorious and leads to healing. The purple cloak, used to incite jeering, becomes a robe of mercy with which Jesus surrounds us. Everything is a symbol. The crown and purple cloak symbolize royalty -- which is why they were used as taunts in the first place -- but there's so much more that they could not know... but we know now. The passion was so much more than a soldier's joke, so much more than any other crucifixion. Jesus died and rose so we might live and be surrounded by God's infinite grace, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin and death.

Finally, the third verse:

A sceptered reed, O patient Lord,
They thrust into your hand,
And acted out their grim charade
To its appointed end.
They could not know, as we do now,
Though empires rise and fall
You Kingdom shall not cease to grow
Till love embraces all.

This is definitely my favorite verse. It emphasizes the inevitability of all of this ("to its appointed end") and ties together all the royal symbols. Most importantly, though, it ends with the triumph of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom is everlasting, and it is love. It will not stop growing until "love embraces all," and when love does embrace all, there won't be any more dimensions along which to grow, because God's Kingdom is love, and that will be the completion of the Kingdom. All of this Christ suffered for us, that we might live in a Kingdom of Love.

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