Alone   6 comments

“My days are few, O fail not, with thine immortal power
To hold me that I quail not in death’s most fearful hour”

Palm Sunday both begins and ends with tears for me. The beauty in the liturgy of palms with which the service begins, with the gorgeous hymn “All Glory, Laud And Honor” never fails to stir my heart and bring at least a little shine to my eyes. But it’s the closing hymn that really gets me, especially in the past few years.

Palm Sunday ends as Passion Sunday: the celebration of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem quickly gives way to the recounting of his arrest, trial and death on the cross. And the service closes with an a capella singing of “O Sacred Head, Sore Wounded,” which I always want to attribute to J. S. Bach —the tune is used several times in his St. Matthew Passion—but Bach just adapted the harmonies; Hans Leo Hassler is the composer. The words are by Paul Gerhardt and translated into English by Robert Seymour Bridges.

My father’s death (in 2007, from colon cancer) cemented in my mind the idea that each one of us dies alone. Many of you are now knee-jerking platitudes about God being with us, but let me finish. And others are remembering that I’ve told you my dad died surrounded by his family, which is true. And yet: what fear might have been in those final days was his alone, as was the particular sense of loss; it was his life that was ending, not ours. We could sympathize, but not empathize.

So when I sang the final verse of that hymn on Sunday, my voice broke several times as I thought of Dad’s fear—fear that he masked with his usual air of self-confidence—but that I sensed may have been there nonetheless. I believe that he came to a certain peace about his death on his last day, but it took several days of working through that fear and grief in a fugue state. And still the journey was his alone to make.

But perhaps the empathy that we could not provide for my dad is exactly what the cross is all about. In Jesus, we have a god who knows death, who has gone through death, who can truly empathize with the dying in their fear, their feelings of having been forsaken.

The last two lines of the hymn, following those quoted above, are:

“That I may fight befriended, and see in my last strife
To me thine arms extended upon the cross of life.”

Posted 5 April 2012 by Br. Scott Michael Pomerenk, BSG in Uncategorized

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6 responses to “Alone

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  1. So beautiful. I love your vulnerability. I love to hear about your dad. Thank you. I have so much respect for you, my friend.

    • Thank you, Becca. I’ve been meaning to tell you that you inspired this post! That Monday I was continuing to have these thoughts about the hymn and my dad hiding his fear, and then I read your post about Colby hiding his tears in karate, and I thought, “Hey, I should write this down.” So double thanks.

  2. Beautiful. You are correct that we face death alone, even if surrounded by loved ones. Sherry and I just returned from a contemplative Good Friday service. In the reading of John’s gospel, we were reminded that at the foot of the cross were his mother, his aunt, a friend, and a disciple. But on the cross, he was alone.

    As a Baptist friend of mine used to say “Its Friday, but Sunday’s coming” We look for the hope of the resurrection.

    Have a blessed Easter.

    Stephen Southern
  3. That is a very deeply and dearly gained insight, Scott. I agree, though, that having a savior who has walked before – especially in death – makes him that much more relevant and significant in our lives.

    Thank you.

  4. This gave me a chill, because we sang the same hymn–“O Sacred Head, Sore Wounded”–last night at Good Friday services at All Saints’, and it was when I began weeping too. Thank you for the beautiful post.

  5. Pingback: Funeral Homily for Br. Max Steele, BSG | Brother Scott Michael, BSG

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