For this Good Friday I also want to post something from a collection of poems with that very title (Good Friday) from the pen of 17th-century Dutch poet Jeremias De Decker (1609-1666). This lengthy set of poems was translated by Calvin College professor Henrietta Ten Harmsel (Dutch title of Goede vrydagh) and published by Paideia Press in 1984. It is enhanced by etchings from Rembrandt, De Decker’s contemporary, who also did his personal portrait.
Since this work may not be so well known, I include here also the opening paragraphs of Ten Harmsel’s introduction, where she summaries the structure of Good Friday and includes a few biographical notes:
Many seventeenth-century poets of wetsern Europe wrote moving poems on the suffering and death of Christ. Most of these poems took the form of short lyrics. Good Friday, by Jeremias De Decker, however, is unique because of its lengthy and detailed treatment of all the events of the Passion week. In nine vivid scenes he presents chronologically the unfolding drama that climaxes in the crucifixion. By his mournful viewing of his Savior’s suffering, the poet draws his reader into contemplating Calvary. And in this contemplation two consistent notes emerge: De Decker’s intimate knowledge of the Bible and its teachings, and his intense personal involvement in Christ’s sufferings as he depicts it in Good Friday.
Jeremias De Decker (1609-1666), a member of the Reformed Church of Holland, spent most of his life in Amsterdam. Although he desired little public recognition and was very diffident about publication, his two volumes of collected poems – published in 1656 and again in 1659, and including Good Friday – received general recognition and continuing enthusiastic praise (p.9).
For our purposes today I am going to quote a small section of De Decker’s seventh scene, titled “Christ Crucified”, since this takes us right to Calvary, to contemplate the mystery of God’s Son in our flesh dying for us sinners. I trust you too will notice in these few lines the two things that Ten Harmsel pointed out about the nature of De Decker’s poem.
‘Well, what is this?’ (you cry). ‘What is this that we see?
Why should the heavens cry?
Why should they take away
The brightness of the sun just at the height of day?’
The heavens, you rogues, now mourn to see their Lord’s distress;
Shamed by your ruthlessness,
Block out this awful sight:
To see him die, who is the Father of their light.
The clouds which hide the sun from all earth’s teeming crowds
Are your sin’s darkening clouds.
I hear him? Yes, he shouts.
What anguished cry of death now from these clouds bursts out?
Ah, me, it is my Lord! He suffers now his worst.
From hell we hear it burst-
The devils watch in glee-
‘My God, my God, oh, why hast thou forsaken me?’
It is the voice of man, the voice of all who fell
Into the pit of hell;
As one we broke God’s law,
And thus, in one, in him, we are forsaken now.
God’s loved one hangs today (Oh, pain too deep for words)
Forsaken by God’s love,
That he once more might send
God’s friendly love on us, who hated God, our Friend!
As an additional note, this work by De Decker was reviewed in The Standard Bearer by the late Gertrude Hoeksema and given a favorable review.