Jesus Christ was handed over

*** This hymn, composed in CORRIS UCHAF, Powys,  explores the paradox that in Jesus’ arrest and trial it is the prisoner who is judge, the victim who represents supreme authority. And Christ’s passion is universalized, so that innocent victims find grace to overcome their tormentors.


As has often been pointed out[1], Jesus’ arrest in Gethsemane marked the turning point in his life. Before then he had pursued his ministry as though he were a ‘self-directed’ man (though in truth his concern throughout was to do the will of him who sent me[2]). After he was ‘handed over’ (for that is what the word normally translated ‘betrayed’ means), Jesus was, through to his death, subjected to the will of others; it was as if he had passively accepted defeat.

But paradoxically (strangely, marvellously, contrary to expectation), this condemned man was his tormentors’ judge. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice[3], he said to the Roman governor. Again, You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above.[4] And to the high priest and all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes, who asked him if he were ‘the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One’: I am; and ‘you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power’, and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven’.[5]

Against the background of God’s faithfulness, the promise of ‘peace that is from above’, this hymn explores the dimensions of this paradox. Himself apparently a victim, he revealed his captors as themselves captives to fear, destroyers gripped by destructive ambitions. He “proved the victim’s friend”.

Jesus’ passion became the model for the passion of others. “Thousands” (‘millions’ would be a more accurate estimate) find in Gethsemane, the court-room, and the execution-ground imagery to strengthen them in their own suffering. Just as Jesus “held his peace” before Caiaphas and before Pilate, so they “hold their confidence in God … speaking truth, with peace on offer”.

Jesus of Nazareth became acknowledged as the “Lord” who gathered “all the world in life’s embrace”.

It is not just those who “witness to their heavenly Lord” who own him as a kind of tribal talisman. The many, perhaps majority, who do not know “God our Father” are yet “held in heaven”, their lives, however stormy, “stilled, transfigured, by love’s peace”.

The first three stanzas set forth the basis for the prayer that will be at the heart of the hymn. Jesus’ arrest and condemnation is recalled, its significance celebrated, and its immense impact acknowledged. The theme of peace-building emerges, the enduring constancy of peacemakers, and the ‘power of God to hold and lead’[6]. This hymn is especially suitable for Maundy Thursday because of its point of departure in Jesus’ arrest. The hymn also makes clear that Maundy Thursday belongs in all time, in every persecution, whatever the political or religious culture.

So, following Jesus’ injunction to Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you[7], “we pray for all destroyers”. Prayer here is more than merely naming the enemy. Searching struggle is involved, for, contrary to the convention that you shall … hate your enemy[8], a view often and strongly urged in the Hebrew Scriptures, and that seems therefore to be endorsed by ‘the Most High, the Lord of Hosts’, the hymn encourages us to pray that all destroyers should be converted “to be life-defenders; let them hold your love most dear”. At the same time, we pray to be the kind of people who can and will pray and enact that prayer: “send us forth rejoicing … Christ’s own life before our eyes”.

The music of this hymn needs to acknowledge the awe and the confidence in God appropriate to witnessing martyrdom. Composed in Wales, it is consciously in a style of Welsh hymnody.

[1] Notably by W.H.Vanstone in The Stature of Waiting (1982)

[2] John 6.38

[3] John 18.37b

[4] John 19.11

[5] Mark 14.62. Jesus quotes the prophecy in Daniel 7.13-14

[6] Mrs C.F.Alexander’s translation of a phrase in St Patrick’s Breastplate (5th-7th century Gaelic)

[7] Matthew 5.44

[8] Matthew 5.43