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History of Hymns: “O Crucified Redeemer”

By C. Michael Hawn

“O Crucified Redeemer,” by Timothy Rees;
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 425

O crucified Redeemer,
whose life-blood we have spilt,
to you we raise our guilty hands,
and humbly own our guilt.
Today we see your passion
spread open to our gaze;
the crowded street, the country road,
its Calvary displays.*

Timothy Rees (1874-1939), a Welsh priest in the Anglican Church, was shaped in large part by his service in The Great War — World War I (1914-1918). During the war, he was a chaplain whose service merited the awarding of the Military Cross (1917). This experience is important because it may account, according to hymnologist J. R. Watson (Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology), for extensive use of vivid images that both reflect the suffering of Christ on the cross and the continual suffering of humanity through self-inflicted atrocities and agony.

At the center of this reading of the hymn is the missing second stanza that, though using male-dominant references of this time, places the Christ’s crucifixion in juxtaposition with the barbarism of The Great War:

Wherever love is outraged,
wherever hope is killed,
Where man still wrongs his brother man,
thy Passion is fulfilled.

We see thy tortured body,
we see the wounds that bleed,
Where brotherhood hangs crucified,
nailed to a cross of greed.*

Rees effectively employs the poetic device of hypotyposis, painting a vivid description in words. Vivid poetic descriptions of the crucifixion are well within the hymnic tradition of depicting Christ’s passion. For example, note the English translation of the first stanza of “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” (1656) by Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676) as found in The United Methodist Hymnal, 286:

O sacred Head, now wounded,
with grief and shame weighed down,
now scornfully surrounded
with thorns, thine only crown:
how pale thou art with anguish,
with sore abuse and scorn!
How does that visage languish
which once was bright as morn!

Gerhardt’s reflection on the crucified Christ is analogous to a personal visit to a museum to meditate privately on a powerful painting of Christ on the cross. On the other hand, Rees’s reflection on the crucified Christ places the Savior on a cross in the middle of a gruesome battlefield scene shown on a mammoth 3D movie screen.

The first stanza, cited above, is reminiscent of another seventeenth-century hymn, the second stanza of “Ah, Holy Jesus” (1630) by Johann Heermann (1585-1657):

Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee!

‘Twas I Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee;

I crucified thee.

Once again, appropriate to the seventeenth century, the reflection by Heermann is intensely personal — “I” — while Rees, even when using some of the same words, voices the sin of all humanity in the first-person plural — “we.”

The final two stanzas continue the juxtaposition of allusions to war atrocities — “battlefields run red with blood” — as well as the crucifixion — “we see your thorn crowned head” (stanza 2). Stanza 3 combines the groans of humanity with Christ’s cries of agony: “The groaning of creation / wrung out by pain and care . . . ” (line 1) and “O crucified Redeemer, / these are your cries of pain. . .”. (line 3). The hymn concludes with a petition that “love come in to reign.”

This hymn was first published under the title “Calvary” in the a collection of the poet’s works published posthumously as Sermons and Hymns by Timothy Rees, Bishop of Llandaff, Collected and Prepared for Publication by John Lambert Rees (1946). Bishop Rees, though taking Holy Orders in the Anglican Church as a deacon (1897) and priest (1898), became a member of the Community of the Resurrection, Mirfield, in 1907. The Community, an order of men rooted in the Anglican tradition, continues its ministry today: https://www.mirfield.org.uk. Many of Rees’s hymns appear in the Community’s publications such as The Mirfield Mission Hymn-Book (ed. 1922). John Lambert Rees stated that “O crucified Redeemer” had been printed in CR: the Chronicle of the Community of the Resurrection, but J. R. Watson notes that it has not been found in that source.

Rees served as Warden of the College of the Community of the Resurrection (1922-1928) and was consecrated as Bishop of Llandaff in 1931, serving in that capacity until his death. The hymn crossed the Atlantic in its publication in the Canadian Anglican collection, The Hymn Book (1971), but has found acceptance primarily in the United States in Methodist-related hymnals and supplements.

Given the hymn’s focus on the suffering caused by war, “O Crucified Redeemer” appears appropriately in the Social Holiness section of The United Methodist Hymnal (1989). I would suggest, however, that its use during Holy Week (the Passion and Death section of The United Methodist Hymnal) is equally appropriate. Though we should reflect on our personal sin during Holy Week, there is a need, I believe, to view Christ’s passion in the context of the sin of humanity that continues, through political, corporate, and religious institutions, to perpetrate suffering and violence throughout the world.

*©1946 Words by permission of the Community of the Resurrection. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

For further reading:

Watson, J. R. "O crucified Redeemer." The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology. Canterbury Press, accessed November 7, 2017, http://www.hymnology.co.uk/o/o-crucified-redeemer.

_____. "Timothy Rees." The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology. Canterbury Press, accessed November 7, 2017, http://www.hymnology.co.uk/t/timothy-rees.

Young, Carlton R. Companion to The United Methodist Hymnal. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993. pp. 506-507, 817.

C. Michael Hawn is University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Church Music and Adjunct Professor and Director of the Doctor of Pastoral Music Program at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas.