When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

Text: Isaac Watts, 1674-1748
Tune: ROCKINGHAM OLD Edward Miller, 1731-1807

Tonight I chose the only Lenten hymn I know by heart. We are almost to the end of this Lenten journey and as I reflect back over the last six weeks, I am so thankful for the deep times of worship I have had with my hymnal in hand. 

I hope you get a chance sometime this weekend to stop and consider what it’s is all about. To truly survey the cross and let the gravity of its meaning settle over you. 

And then don’t forget about Sunday – because while we end this day mourning the death of our Savior, we awake on Easter morning to find that this is not the end.
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the prince of glory died
My richest gain I count but loss

And pour contempt on all my pride

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast

Save in the death of Christ, My God
All the vain things that charm me most
I sacrifice them to His blood
See from his head, his hands, his feet
Sorrow and love flow mingled down
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of nature mine
That were an offering far too small
Love so amazing, so divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Palm Sunday: Ride On, Ride On in Majesty!

Text: Henry H. Milman, 1827
Tune: CHICKAHOMINY, Henry B. Hays, 1981
From Psalter Hymnal, 1987

As a child I loved Palm Sunday morning. All the Sunday School kids would proudly march down the aisles of our church, waving branches and singing a song with Hosanna! as one of the lyrics. Today I watched my 2 year old walk into the church with a palm branch as well and she came home from Sunday School with a sticker that said “Jesus is King” on it. I always thought Palm Sunday was a celebration – and it is. But it marks the beginning of one of the most dramatic weeks in human history that I was not able to understand when I was waving palm branches as a kid.

This Sunday’s hymn captures the irony of Palm Sunday. The people are joyfully hailing the King that they will crucify less than a week later. Luke’s account of Jesus entering Jerusalem says that the people “began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ‘Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!'” Luke 19:37b-38.

Jesus is the King of Kings. He was welcomed into Jerusalem as a king, but he never ruled from an earthly throne. The hymn says he came in lowly pomp. He rode into Jerusalem in a parade of praise, but he knew he had come to Jerusalem to die. Christ first bows his head and submits to the cross before he takes his seat at the right hand of God to reign as King. The adoring crowds did not anticipate this type of king when they were waving the branches and shouting. And only days later, the crowds were not shouting “Hosanna” but “Crucify.” How quickly we change our tune when things don’t turn out the way we hoped they would.

I didn’t really understand Palm Sunday as a child, but I realize that I don’t really fully understand it as an adult. The King of Kings chose to finish his time on earth in such an unexpected way. It was unexpected from the triumphal entry into Jerusalem that we celebrate today, to the washing of his disciples’ feet that we commemorate onThursday, to his death and apparent defeat on Friday. And then his resurrection from the tomb on Easter day. This mysterious hymn reminds me that even though the events of Holy Week are so familiar, the gravity of their significance is not. I pray that the Holy Spirit can open our eyes to the mystery and the irony of the humble, meek Savior bowing his head to die for our sins, and then taking his place on the throne to reign as the King of Kings forever.

Ride on, ride on in majesty 
as all the crowds “Hosanna!” cry; 
through waving branches slowly ride, 
O Savior, to be crucified. 
Ride on, ride on in majesty, 
in lowly pomp ride on to die; 
O Christ, your triumph now begin 
o’er captive death and conquered sin! 
Ride on, ride on in majesty, 
the last and fiercest foe defy; 
the Father on his sapphire throne 
awaits his own anointed Son. 
Ride on, ride on in majesty, 
in lowly pomp ride on to die; 
bow your meek head to mortal pain, 
then take, O God, your power and reign! 

What Wondrous Love is This?

Have you ever felt like you were sinking? Once when I was just learning to swim, my younger sister – who was also not a great swimmer – jumped into the pool and grabbed me around the neck. I couldn’t touch the bottom and I struggled to drag her with me to the side of the pool so I could grab on to the edge and bring us both to safety. It was probably only a split second that happened more than 25 years ago, but I still remember that frantic moment when I felt like I was literally sinking in the water with my sister clinging to me.

This week’s hymn is mysterious. The melody is haunting. We sang this on Sunday night at a Lenten service and it felt like a wail that comes straight from the heart of one who knows they were drowning in their sins. They know that they would not have made it to safety if Christ had not laid aside his crown to rescue them from certain death.

If you have been saved by Jesus Christ, take a moment to consider how wondrous – almost unbelievable it is that God himself would sink right down with us in order to save us from our sins. Philippians 2:5-8 says this about Jesus:

…being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather he made himself nothing by taking the nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!

If you are still sinking down in your sins, struggling to swim to the edge – you cannot make it to safety on your own. You need a Savior to rescue you. Today might be the day that Jesus Christ is calling you to look up and see salvation he has for you. He has died for your sins. He has such great love for you.

Nothing, not even death can separate us from God’s wondrous love. And that love should cause us to offer up a song of praise to the only one who can save us.

What wondrous love is this O my soul, O my soul
What wondrous love is this, O my soul
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
to bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul
to bear the dreadful curse for my soul.

When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down
When i was sinking down, sinking down
When I was sinking down beneath God’s righteous frown,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul, for my soul
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul.

To God and to the Lamb I will sing, I will sing
To God and to the Lamb I will sing
To God and to the Lamb who is the Great I AM
While millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing
While millions join the theme, I will sing.

And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on
And when from death I’m free I’ll sing His love for me
And through eternity I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on
And through eternity I’ll sing on.

I Want Jesus to Walk with Me

Text: African American Spiritual
From Lift Up Your Hearts, 2013

Several years ago, I was participating in a retreat with some people in the community where I lived and worked. We spent a weekend in the mountains of Colorado, and after one session, the speaker told us to go outside for a time and really listen to God’s voice. Where was he? What was he saying?

At that time, I was feeling distant from God, oblivious to where he was leading me and what he wanted to speak into my life. I was feeling guilty and wanted to make a change, be more disciplined, start a new project to help me feel closer to God. The answer I got was totally unexpected. It was intimate, personal and spoke right to my heart. That day, when I cleared space and really listened to God’s voice, I suddenly heard him saying 

“You may feel far away from me, but I am not far away from you. Turn around. I am still walking right here with you.”

The truth is, I couldn’t get away from God even if I wanted to. He is everywhere. The psalmist says it this way in Psalm 139:7-10.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
  Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
  if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
  if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
  your right hand will hold me fast.

We can ignore or try to flee from God’s presence in our lives. It’s easy (and sometimes seems preferable) to walk alone when the road is easy. But when we are going through trials and sorrows we realize we need help. When we realize we’re hopelessly lost, we are more apt to recognize our need for a guide.

The phrase that sticks out in this week’s hymn is “I want.” He is with us no matter what. He is everywhere. But when we want and desire to experience his presence, we truly reap the benefits of a life walked with Jesus. We can turn and see him beside us. We can draw on the power and companionship he offers. We can get to know him better. And the longer he walks with us, we will inevitably realize that we are not even the ones setting the course. God himself is the one inviting us to walk with him. He is calling us to a deeper trust and understanding of himself, and his very presence gives us courage and strength for the journey.

This week, the recording of the hymn is not me… Both because I didn’t have time to get it recorded, and because this guy does it far better than I ever could. Listen to these words and allow the reality of God’s desire to walk beside you bring you to a new understanding of his presence in your life.

I want Jesus to walk with me
I want Jesus to walk with me

all along my pilgrim journey

Lord, I want Jesus to walk with me

In my trials, Lord, walk with me

In my trials, Lord, walk with me

when my heart is almost breaking

Lord, I want Jesus to walk with me

When I’m in trouble, Lord, walk with me

when I’m in trouble, Lord, walk with me

when my head is bowed in sorrow,

Lord, I want Jesus to walk with me.