1 Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended,
that we to judge thee have in hate pretended?
By foes derided, by thine own rejected,
O most afflicted!
2 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.
3 Lo, the Good Shepherd for the sheep is offered;
the slave hath sinned, and the Son hath suffered.
For our atonement, while we nothing heeded,
4 For me, kind Jesus, was thy incarnation,
thy mortal sorrow, and thy life's oblation;
thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion,
for my salvation.
5 Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay thee,
I do adore thee, and will ever pray thee,
think on thy pity and thy love unswerving,
not my deserving.
United Methodist Hymnal, 1989
|First Line:||Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended|
|Author:||Johann Heermann (1630)|
|Translator:||Robert Bridges (1897)|
|Source:||Based on an 11th century Latin meditation|
This hymn was originally based on a Latin text, Meditationes, written by a medieval monk, Jean de Fecamp, in the eleventh century. Johann Heermann, writing during the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), based his fifteen-stanza German text on de Fecamp's Latin text. The text reflects the great personal suffering Heermann endured during the ravages of the war. Robert S. Bridges, who was named England's poet laureate in 1913, paraphrased Heermann's text in five English stanzas in 1897.
Some hymnals omit the third stanza (“Lo, the Good Shepherd”), and many modernize the language. One change to the text that affects the meaning of the hymn is the replacement of the original third person “man” in the first and third stanzas with the first person “we,” which adds to the personal, convicting message of the text.
Christ's Passion is the main theme of the text. In the first two stanzas, the question is asked: why did Jesus suffer? The final, short line of the second stanza states the answer succinctly: “I crucified thee.” The third and fourth stanzas describe the sacrificial nature of Christ's death. The final stanza is an overflowing of gratitude in response to the great gift bestowed by the Good Shepherd.
This hymn is most frequently sung to the tune HERZLIEBSTER JESU, named for the opening words of the German text. The tune was written by Johann Crüger in 1640, based on the Genevan tune for Psalm 23 and a tune from Johann Hermann Schein's Cantional of 1627. J.S. Bach used this chorale in both the St. Matthew Passion and the St. John Passion. One interesting feature of the tune is the octave leap at the beginning of the last short phrase. This “explosion at the end … emphasizes all the five-syllable lines” (Paul Westermeyer, Hymnal Companion to Evangelical Lutheran Worship, 153). These short lines concisely summarize each stanza, so it is fitting that the tune also emphasizes them.
This hymn could be sung during Lent, Holy Week, or a Lord's Supper service. When sung for Lent or Holy Week, try pairing it with another contemplative hymn on the theme of Christ's Passion, such as “Go to Dark Gethsemane” or “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” (among many others), which provide a similar opportunity for meditation upon the suffering Jesus bore for our sins. If “Ah, Holy Jesus” is sung for a Lord's Supper service, it could be sung before the sacrament, and a hymn such as “And Can It Be,” or “My Jesus, I Love Thee,” which expound on Christ's love and its meaning for believers, could be sung afterward.
This hymn should be sung at a tempo slow enough to allow the congregation to contemplate its meaning, but without dragging, since the first three long phrases may leave them out of breath. Subdued, simple accompaniment is appropriate. One interesting idea (from the Musician's Guide to Evangelical Lutheran Worship, #349) is to sing one or more verses accompanied only by a solo instrument.
“Ah, Holy Jesus” would also be a good choice for a choral or instrumental prelude or anthem, giving the congregation an opportunity to sit and silently consider the work of Jesus on the cross. The handbell arrangement by Arnold Sherman has a rather dark mood to it, which might be appropriate in a Tennebrae service. Craig Courtney's choral arrangement would be a good choice for a smaller congregation. The choral parts are simple, and the accompaniment, for a pianist of late intermediate skill, effectively suits the mood of the text. Another setting, which requires a few more resources, is by Larry Shackley. The choral and organ accompaniment parts are more difficult than Courtney's arrangement. While the trumpet is an instrument more easily associated with the joyful celebration of Easter, Shackley's use of it here is suitably expressive, especially during the second verse.
Tiffany Shomsky, Hymnary.org