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In yesterday’s post I explained the unusual origin and history of the hymn “Crown Him with Many Crowns.” Though most hymnals today include four verses of this hymn, its original author, Robert Bridges, wrote six. Then, a couple of decades later, another writer composed six additional stanzas, intending them to replace the original six. The hymn we sing today is usually composed of elements from the twelve verses composed by two different writers.
Yet all of these verses miss what seems to me one of the most obvious and essential elements of a hymn that celebrates the many crowns of Christ. Think about it for a moment. What was the only crown that Jesus actually wore during his earthly life? The crown of thorns! This fact shows up in Matthew, Mark, and John. Here is Mark’s version:
Then the soldiers led [Jesus] into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. And they began saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. (Mark 15:16-19)
Of course the problem with this crown is that is was an emblem of suffering and shame, not the sort of crown Bridges and Thring were celebrating in their hymn. Nevertheless, the fact that Jesus wore a crown of thorns, enduring the pain and dishonor it signified, is one of the reasons he rightly wears the more obviously royal crowns (see Philippians 2:5-11).
I’m not suggesting that every time we sing about the crowns of Jesus, we must mention the crown of thorns. But I do think that at times, especially in Holy Week, it’s appropriate to remember the only real crown that Jesus wore during his earthly life. (Picture: A portion of one of my wife’s paintings of the Stations of the Cross.)
Several years ago I wrote another verse for “Crown Him With Many Crowns.” It was sung in Holy Week services at Irvine Presbyterian Church. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you may have seen this verse. Recently, I reworked it, so that it fits even more neatly the structure and feel of the classic hymn. Here is the verse I’ve written:
Crown Him the Lord of grace,
Messiah, chosen king,
Called as God’s servant to embrace
The way of suffering.
A thorny wreath of pain,
Pressed down upon his brow,
Foretells the time when he shall reign,
And every knee shall bow.
Let me make a few comments about these lyrics.
The meter and rhyme scheme of this verse are the same as those employed by Bridges and Thring. I must say, it’s not easy to follow such a tight ABABCDCD rhyming pattern and still make theological sense.
I chose “Lord of grace” because it is the grace of God in Christ that sent him to the cross, thus accounting for the imposition of the crown of thorns. If it were not for God’s grace, Jesus would never have worn this crown, and we would still be lost in our sins.
The first part of this stanza expresses the mystery that the anointed one (“Messiah, chosen king”) was also the Suffering Servant of God, as revealed in Isaiah 52-53. This combination of messiahship and servanthood was unique to the vision of Jesus, and gets to the core of his messianic calling.
The second part of this stanza explores the irony of the crown of thorns. It was pressed down on the “brow” of Jesus as an implement of pain and mockery. Yet this crown, ironically, points to the future when, indeed, Christ will wear a truly royal crown. The soldiers who crowned Jesus and hailed him as king meant to insult him. But, in a sense, they were proclaiming the truth and ironically predicting the future. Consider the vision of Philippians 2:5-11:
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
and became obedient to the point of death
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted
and gave him the
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should
that Jesus Christ is Lord
to the glory of God the Father.
Notice the strong connection between the humility and sacrifice of Jesus and his ultimate exaltation as Lord, before whom every knee shall bow.
So, there you have it. A thirteenth verse for “Crown Him with Many Crowns.” Who knows? Someday, maybe somebody will actually sing it (besides me).