Upon the Cross Extended
Having focused on Pastor Paul Gerhardt’s hymn “A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth (438) for the last number of weeks, we turn now for our meditation to another of Gerhardt’s hymns, “Upon the Cross Extended” (The Lutheran Hymnal 171). This hymn focuses specifically on Christ’s crucifixion, even as our Lent Vespers lessons move into St. Matthew chapter 27.
Profound Meditation on the Lord’s Passion
Originally in sixteen stanzas, W.G. Polack (1890-1950), Lutheran hymnologist, describes the hymn as “profound meditation on the Lord’s Passion.” It was written while Gerhardt was studying at Wittenberg, at the end of the Thirty Years’ War. Even as it is a call to repentance and recognition of the suffering of all mankind, yet Gerhardt includes himself as having caused our Lord’s sorrows: “Who is it that hath bruised Thee? And caused Thee all Thy woe? – I caused Thy grief and sighing, By evils multiplying – ‘Tis I who should be smitten, My shame and scorn Thou bearest!”
Kantor J.S. Bach notably used stanzas 3 and 5 of this hymn in his two great Passions – the St. Matthew and the St. John.
The tune “O Welt, sieh hier” was written for Gerhardt’s text by Heinrich Friese, organist at Jacobuskirche in Hamburg as part of the 1703 hymnal Choral-Gesang-Buch.
As with many Lent hymns, after offering contrition for our sin and focus on Christ’s sacrificial atonement, it concludes on a joyous note—this time, of eternal rest:
Thy groaning and Thy sighing,
Thy bitter tears and dying,
With which Thou was oppressed—
They shall, when life is ending,
Be guiding and attending
My way to Thine eternal rest.
A choral recording of the hymn in German:
An organ meditation on the hymn tune with the melody in the pedal: