On That Cross

What is it?

On That Cross is a powerful reflection on the crucifiction of Jesus Christ. I dreamt up the lyrics at around 3am in the morning of 3rd December 2014 sitting at a desk in room 703 of the De Syloia Hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam. Often I find that my periods of working abroad give me the space to think of things in new ways. This song is a good example of that.

For general church use there is a simplified version available for congregation and keyboard. My original version is scored for piano and six-part mixed (SSATBB) choir. You can read more about that in the Learn section below

Lyrics

On that cross you hang, my Lord,
Your pain-racked face with blood stained,
You raise your eyes to heaven's gate
And breathe these words of grace:
“Oh Father, please forgive them, for
They know not what they're doing -
Forgive them, for I pay the price
For all of sin's ruin,
For all the sin of man.”

To that cross I come, my Lord,
I see the ground with blood stained.
I feel your eyes with love look down
As tenderly you say:
“Dear child your life with promise filled
Is ransomed by my passion -
For with my blood I pay the price
For all your transgression,
For all the sin of man.”

To that cross I cling, my Lord,
I see your world with blood stained;
I hear your children call upon
Your name and you reply:
“Oh men who dare to call on gods
To justify your hatred -
Of this be sure: I love you still,
My cross your salvation,
From all the sin of man.”

Listen

Learn

One look at the first page of the score of On That Cross is all you need to realise that this is not a case of a choir singing with a piano accompaniment. I put the piano part above the choir in order to dispel that misconception. So if it's not that, what is it?

I wanted to demonstrate that it is possible to approach a subject from two completely different points of view, without either point of view being compromised by the other, and yet the result can nevertheless be a beautiful synergy. That is what the pianist and the choir are doing here. Each is meditating upon the cross of Christ, but from two totally unrelated points of view and yet somehow combining in a way that is almost hypnotically beautifully. There is little obvious relationship between the choir's and the piano's music; and yet each is reconciled to the other ...

... and there's a very good reason why I wanted the music to speak of such reconciliation.

Score
Good Friday

In late 2014 people in Iraq were being beheaded, crucified and generally killed in the most brutal and sadistic manner possible. Their only ‘crime’ was to dare to call themselves Christians. You can say what you like but in my book nobody has the right to tell anybody else what they should believe, much less murder them on religious grounds. The thing that incensed me almost to the point of incandescence was that the perpetrators of this unspeakable evil dared to justify their actions by claiming that they were acting on behalf of their god. So in such frame of mind I started to write the lyrics to On That Cross.

The first words that came into my mind were “Oh men who dare to call on gods to justify your hatred – of this be sure …” and I wanted to follow that with threats of eternal damnation, torture in hellfire and so on. Except that the words that flowed out of my fingers onto my computer screen were not like that at all. “Of this be sure – I love you still, my cross your salvation from all the sin of man.”

It doesn’t get much more powerful than that. I may be incapable of loving the people of ISIS, ISIL, DAESH or whatever one calls them, but my God isn’t. He created them, he sent his Son to die for them … and he is even now ready to save them, as he is you and me. That’s grace.

A small group of us sang this at a Good Friday united service in 2016. We sang it unannounced, at the end of the service, when one would have expected people to start getting up from their seats and leaving the church. Nobody did. Not one single person moved while we sang.