I love discovering old hymns of the faith and incorporating them into my private worship. I’ve realized only in the last few years how vast the trove is, and I’m grateful for contemporary musical artists who sift through it, dusting off old gems and making them shine for today.
Thanks to Aaron Hale, whose retuning of “O Christ, What Burdens Bowed Thy Head” has made the hymn more accessible to modern ears and has really drawn out the beauty of the original text. He released the song in April 2011 on his album Lenten Hymns, Vol. 1, available for free download from his website.
The hymn is one of thanks and praise to the Christ who bore the weight of all that we were breaking under: sin, death, and divine wrath and judgment. Each verse focuses on a different image—load, cup, rod, tempest, sword—and then the final verse speaks to the death-and-resurrection experience of those who repentantly receive Christ’s atoning act as for them. Even as the Crucifixion and Resurrection release us from all the aforementioned oppressions, they bind us to something better: life in Christ—that is, a life in which, through the empowerment of Christ’s Spirit, we grow more and more into who God created us to be.
Here are the words, written by Anne Ross Cousin in the latter half of the nineteenth century. You might read along as you listen to Aaron Hale’s musical setting on the player below. Or you might simply listen as you gaze upon Odilon Redon’s face of Christ.
O Christ, what burdens bowed Thy head!
Our load was laid on Thee;
Thou stoodest in the sinner’s stead,
Didst bear all ill for me.
A Victim led, Thy blood was shed;
Now there’s no load for me.
Death and the curse were in our cup:
O Christ, ’twas full for Thee;
But Thou hast drained the last dark drop,
’Tis empty now for me.
That bitter cup, love drank it up;
Now blessing’s draught for me.
Jehovah lifted up His rod;
O Christ, it fell on Thee!
Thou wast sore stricken of Thy God;
There’s not one stroke for me.
Thy tears, Thy blood, beneath it flowed;
Thy bruising healeth me.
The tempest’s awful voice was heard,
O Christ, it broke on Thee!
Thy open bosom was my ward,
It braved the storm for me.
Thy form was scarred, Thy visage marred;
Now cloudless peace for me.
Jehovah bade His sword awake;
O Christ, it woke ’gainst Thee!
Thy blood the flaming blade must slake;
Thine heart its sheath must be;
All for my sake, my peace to make;
Now sleeps that sword for me.
For me, Lord Jesus, Thou hast died,
And I have died in Thee!
Thou’rt ris’n—my hands are all untied,
And now Thou liv’st in me.
When purified, made white and tried,
Thy glory then for me!