On That Cross


The cross at Coventry Cathedral
3rd December 2014 | For Andrew White and the Christians of Iraq

What is it?

On That Cross is a powerful reflection on the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. 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.


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.

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.”


This synthesised rendition gives a good idea of what can be made of the piece, illustrating well the dialogue between piano and the rest of the ensemble. The harmonies are those of the six-part SSATBB setting.



The opening of 'On That Cross'

One look at the first page of 'On That Cross' shows that this is not a case of a choir singing with a piano accompaniment. I wanted to demonstrate that it is possible to approach a subject from two completely different points of view that complement rather than compromise one another. Here the pianist and the choir are each meditating upon the cross of Christ, but in ways that seem unrelated. Nevertheless the resulting combination is almost hypnotically beautifully. I wanted the music to speak of reconciliation, because of what was happening at the time I wrote it.

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. Nobody has the right to treat other people in that way. The perpetrators of this unspeakable evil dared to justify their actions by claiming that they were acting on behalf of God.

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.

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.

Christ on the cross

The image that features on the published score

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