The Wondrous Cross

The Fifth Sunday in Lent
March 18, 2018

As the season of Lent progresses, our liturgy and music increasingly sharpen our focus on Jesus' suffering and death on the cross. Today, we will sing one of the great English hymns on this theme - "When I survey the wondrous cross" by Isaac Watts (1674-1748).

When Watts was born in England, most "hymns" were metrical paraphrases of psalms. Watts moved beyond merely paraphrasing the Bible to creating original poetry. His hymns are considered to be some of the greatest in the English language, and they helped to establish the importance of hymn singing in the Anglican tradition.

While using vocabulary immediately accessible to the singer, Watts' hymns make artful use of poetic devices. His hymns often begin with a powerful opening line designed to grab the singer's attention and set the stage for all that follows. His use of imagery draws singers into the scene: "See from his head, his hands, his feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down." The final stanza of "When I survey" is an example of the use of climax - increasing intensity and cosmic scope to create a powerful ending:

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.

Many of Watts' greatest hymns, including this one, end with a charge - a call for action. What is God calling you to do or to be as we walk the way of the cross this Lent?

Here is a video of the hymn, sung by the Choir of King's College, Cambridge: When I survey the wondrous cross

Music for Sunday, March 18, 2018
Hymns: 495, 439, 143 (stanza 5), 313, 474, 149
Service Music: S-96, S-106, S-130, S-164
Anthem: "O Lamb of God"     -Richard Shephard
Organ music:
Passacaglia in D Minor     -Dietrich Buxtehude
Fughetta No. 1     -Joseph Rheinberger


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