Sunday night, as a part of our Hanging of the Green service, we sang the poignant and lovely hymn “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded.” That hymn, based on a medieval poem, includes a question with which I gladly and gratefully wrestle:
What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
In many ways, my vocation is “language borrower”: I am constantly searching for, working toward, words which will enable me to offer deeper and higher gratitude to Jesus for the astonishing love he gives. That love, expressed in so many ways, including his “dying sorrow,” makes it possible for us to experience friendship with him. He has invited us to know and be known by him, to love and be loved by him, so fully that we may call him “Dearest Friend.” It takes my breath away that the God of the universe is a God of Jesus-like humility and tenderness, a God who is eager to befriend us.
How can I ever thank God adequately for that kind of vulnerability and availability, for such generous love? What language can I borrow? Week by week, as I prepare to preach and teach, I am on a quest for images, metaphors, stories and turns of phrase that will narrow the gap (it can never be closed) between the glory of Jesus and my merely human words.
Meister Eckhart (1260-1328) said: “All language has taken an oath to fail to describe Him; any attempt to do so is the height of arrogance.” The need and calling I have to offer thanks and bear witness require me to risk description, to venture speech, but I am keenly aware of the limits of my understanding, the final inadequacy of my words, and the temptation of arrogantly assuming and pretending to know more than I do.
Ultimately, the search for words is bound up, for me, with the search for greater intimacy with Jesus. “O Sacred Head” includes this prayer, which I pray with a kind of awe and wonder:
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.