- Singing the Faith: 273
- Brian Wren
- “Passion Chorale” trad collected Hans Leo Hassler harmonised J.S. Bach
Brian Wren’s hymn first appeared in New Church Praise (1975), and then again in his first hymn collection (Faith Looking Forward, 1983), set to the tune “Shrub End” by Peter Cutts (see StF 282). Using startling imagery, Brian strongly echoes St Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 – “the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”.
Some would say that the images used in the first two verses are un-hymn like, even inappropriate. Under the headline “’Worzel’ image isn’t right for Jesus” in the Methodist Recorder (8 March, 2012), one reader complained that the opening lines of the hymn, “Here hands a man discarded, / a scarecrow hoisted high”, conjure up an image of Worzel Gummidge – a man-made effigy stuffed with straw. “I feel that to describe Jesus as a ‘scarecrow’ and a ‘clown’ (v.2) is both insulting and offensive”.
Arguably, this is precisely the point of the hymn – to reflect the scandalous idea that the God worshipped by Christians could have been degraded, derided and pinned naked to a cross. This “divine folly”, says St Paul, was an idea that Jews and Greeks simply couldn’t get their heads around. Brian Wren’s hymn helps us re-experience the shock-factor of Christian belief.
However, in writing the hymn, Brian was also addressing another issue:
“To anyone who really experiences life as empty and meaningless, the Church’s gladsongs about Grace and Resurrection can be an alienation – to the person who sits bowed down in depression and emptiness, there is no good news in being invited to join the celebration next door. Good news may come, however, in the accepting silence of one who sits with the desolate, and in the story of the Messiah of God whose life was ”emptied of all meaning, drained out in bleak distress” (v.4), when the sense of God’s purpose and presence was withdrawn from him at the greatest crisis of his life. This, for contemporary humanity, is part of the absurdity (folly) of the cross.”
(Faith Looking Forward, Oxford University Press 1983)
Also see: Scarecrow hymn inspires whole community