“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.” – Philippians 2:5-8
The scene of Christ on the cross stirs the soul of humanity. All who have suffered, see in Christ one who understands. And it is through connecting with Christ in his suffering that we can find connection to him in his new life.
This connection has inspired music from people of every tribe and tongue throughout the centuries. Some tunes can be traced back to an individual composer at a specific moment in their life. George Bennard was inspired to write, “The Old Rugged Cross” in 1913 after a particularly tough night at a big tent revival. His message was heckled and ridiculed by attendees at the revival meeting. George took the shame he felt and connected it to the shame of Christ on the cross. That humiliating night and the connection he felt to Christ gave rise to one of the most popular hymns of the last century.
Other hymns emerge from a communal experience. The singular moment of inspiration is shared by many over time. What we hear is a collective voice that empowers a suffering people. The treasured hymn, “Were You There?” is such a hymn. This African-American spiritual was created by slaves who felt a connection with Christ on the cross. The noted theologian James Cone writes, “In the mystery of God’s revelation, black Christians believed that just knowing that Jesus went through an experience of suffering in a manner similar to theirs gave them faith that God was with them, even in suffering on lynching trees, just as God was present with Jesus in suffering on the cross.”
These hymns, crafted from honest and faithful hearts speak to people all over the world. African-American pastor and author Howard Thurman shares a poignant example in his memoir, With Head and Heart. While in India, Howard and his wife, Sue, were honored with a meeting with Mahatma Gandhi. As their visit came to a close the conversation took a surprising turn. Howard Thurman wrote, “But before we left, he asked, ‘Will you do me a favor? Will you sing one of your songs for me? Will you sing “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord? I feel that this song gets to the root of the experience of the entire human race under the spread of the healing wings of suffering.’”
The opening verses of Philippians 2 which speak of Christ on the cross are thought to be lyrics from an ancient hymn lost to time. Friends may the power, humility, and grace of Christ inspire your heart to sing this day.