Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church - Marshfield, WI

Lent Devotional - March 13, 2023

Hymn: “Cross of Jesus, Cross of Sorrow” LSB #428

William John Sparrow Simpson is the author of our hymn this week and he was a man who lived through quite a change in the times. He was born in 1860 in London, England, and he died not that far away in Illford, England at the ripe old age of 92 in the year 1952.

His father was a pastor in the Anglican Church and William followed in the footsteps of his father by also becoming ordained in 1883. He served in the church until his death, which marked his time as a pastor in the Church at 69 years. He lived to see great sorrows in his life. He noted that, during his life, his home was altered and changed as the Industrial Revolution turned the rolling hills into factories and gray roads (as time has often done). This was marked by his contemporaries as well, such as J. R. R. Tolkien of Lord of the Rings fame. Technology and advancements were soon outpacing mankind’s ability to properly adapt them, something that we note in our own day as well.

But the changes in his boyhood home were pale in comparison to the world around him. The horrors of the 20th century were soon to come upon him as he served in hospitals as Chaplain. He saw the horrors of the victims of WWI and ministered to them. Then, the Great Depression caused life to be hard. Then, Europe darkened again as mankind geared up for the horror that was WII, where Britain found itself an island battered by the Nazi Sea. Air raids made all live on edge. And by the end of his life, what changes did he consider as the world was holding its breath during the Cold War and witnessed weapons that could wipe out cities with a single blast.

But William found great time for writing and reflection. He wrote many hymns, such as our hymn this week, and also was deep into the lore of the Church and of the life and teachings of the great theologian St. Augustine himself. That theology is reflected in this hymn and finds a warm home among us, since Lutherans come from the strain of St. Augustine as well.

It was here in this thinking and time studying that William Simpson found a way to place the timeless Gospel of Jesus Christ into the changes and sorrows of his day. He references Colossians 1 where we have been transferred into the kingdom of Jesus Christ. From dark to light. The cross is how the physical flesh of God incarnate comes to me.

Simpson knew and shared the story of an everlasting God who comes down into time and space to suffer for us. The horrors, fears, and sorrows that we carry are no strange feeling to God in human flesh. Simpson focuses in this hymn especially on the Two Natures of Christ, reflected in the inclusio of his hymn, where the first and last verse is the same.