Hymn Story

Ah, Holy Jesus

Hymn lists

by book of Bible

Why me?  That is a question that each of us is tempted to ask at some point.  Why am I sick?  Why did my house flood?  Why can’t I seem to get ahead financially?  Why me?

Johann Heermann had more cause to ask, “Why me?” than most of us.  He was one of five children, but the only one to survive to adulthood— and his health was none too good.  His mother asked God to spare his life, and promised to devote him to ministry.

Heermann did survive and become a pastor, but his health was never good.  Then the Thirty Years’ War, a war that cost millions of lives, caused him to lose his property and, on several occasions, nearly cost him his life.

But instead of asking, “Why me?” Heermann asked, “Why thee?”  In his hymn, “Ah, Holy Jesus,” he asks why Jesus had to suffer.  Who was responsible for Jesus’ death?  His answer was that he, Johann Heermann, was responsible.  It was his treason that nailed Jesus to the cross.

What he was really saying, of course, was that he, Johann Heermann, was guilty of sin, so it was for him Jesus had to die.

It isn’t popular to think that way today.  Many elements in our culture teach us to blame others rather than taking responsibility for our behavior.  Those same elements tell us that “sin” is an old-fashioned word that has no place in our modern world.

But we are guilty of sin.  We know that without being told—our consciences inform us.  But the good news is that the Christ who died to remove Johann Heermann’s guilt died to remove our guilt as well.  Because of Christ, it is possible for us to be right with God.  That is the good news as proclaimed by this hymn.

— Copyright 2007, Richard Niell Donovan