Jesus, our sacrifice

*** This hymn was written to conclude a setting of the Stations of the Cross I composed for Southampton City Centre Anglican Parish in Holy Week 1994. The tune is named for Carlo CARRETTO, from whose popular biography ‘I, Francis’ I learned that     St Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) taught his friars, when entering a church, to say “We adore you, most holy Jesus Christ, here and in all your churches throughout the world.; and we bless you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.”


I learned, from reading Carlo Carretto’s imagined autobiography of Francis of Assisi[1], that the saint exhorted his brothers and sisters to say, whenever they entered a church: ‘We adore you, most holy Jesus Christ, here and in all your churches throughout the world. And we bless you because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.’ This hymn is written in the spirit of that exhortation. It is an offering of adoration of Christ on the cross, and was originally composed to conclude a service of the Stations of the Cross.

There are traditionally fourteen Stations, the last being ‘The body of Jesus is laid in the grave’. The service at which this hymn was first sung took the form of a procession to different areas of a medieval church, finishing under the Norman tower, which was to represent the location of the tomb. After an hour of intense singing, reading, praying, the fifty or so people present were left emotionally exposed. Within the formality of the ritual they felt some measure of bereavement, as though they were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother Joses who saw where the body was laid[2]; they were left standing in a circle of silence charged with who-could-say-what. The hymn arose out of this silence, as a kind of corporate searching for integration, an attempt to say Amen. For, in the trauma of horror and grief, there’s nothing to be said about crucifixion, Jesus’ or anyone else’s. Yet gratitude for all, as St Richard of Chichester[3] put it, ‘the benefits you have won for me’ can cause the most desperate mourners to smile through their tears, just knowing (and no one will ever persuade them otherwise) that death does not have the last word.

It might be argued that in a technical sense this is not so much a hymn as a worship-song. In content and style it doesn’t at all resemble the contemporary worship-song, and, being constructed with due regard for metre and rhyme, it looks most like a hymn. But there is about it a naked emotionality which nowadays characterises (it’s strange to make this distinction) gatherings for worship rather than church services.

It is in any case a highly reflexive piece. It does not pretend to objectivity, even though the attribution to Jesus of “heavenly and human” bases the lyric firmly in the central stream of Christian doctrine. But neither is it subjective, concerned primarily with my, with our, feelings about “Jesus, our sacrifice”, even though some might suggest that “our sacrifice” makes Jesus wholly the object of our subjective activity. Rather, the sense is of the worshipper spiritually nourished by the very act of adoring the image of the Crucified; like the elderly man who, asked why every day he sat for so long in church gazing at the altar, replied simply: ‘I look at him, and he looks at me’.

The music is written so as to demand from worshippers as little contrived effort as possible. The idea is that they should not be able to stop themselves from joining in, from letting their voices open as if they were the valves of the worshippers’ hearts. To that end, the music moves slowly (though not dragging!), with plenty of space in which to breathe. In the course of only three verses it gathers more and more of life into the act of adoration. (A good visual analogue is Jan van Eyck’s painting ‘The Adoration of the Lamb’, in which every horizon is filled with people all focused towards the central image.) The music is based on classical harmonies, chosen so as to make a vehicle for full-throated voices that fade into the inarticulacy of total wonder.



[1] I Francis (1982)

[2] Mark 15.47

[3] c 1197-1253