The Old Rugged Cross

Being the son and grandson of church organists, music plays a very important role in my faith and theological viewpoints. When it comes to the cross, I could fill an entire book with hymns that reflect my feelings about the Holy Cross. You could probably hum the tunes to many of them, yet some others are less familiar to most.

My mind draws me to the old hymn, The Old Rugged Cross. The words of which sum up my feelings about the Holy Cross and what it represents. I share those words here:

“On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross, the emblem of suffering and shame; and I love that old cross where the dearest and best for a world of lost sinners was slain.

O that old rugged cross, so despised by the world, has a wondrous attraction for me; for the dear Lamb of God left his glory above to bear it to dark Calvary.

In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine, a wondrous beauty I see, for ‘twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died, to pardon and sanctify me.

To that old rugged cross, I will ever be true, its shame and reproach gladly bear; then he’ll call me some day to my home far away, where his glory forever I’ll share.

Refrain: So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross, till my trophies at last I lay down; I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it some day for a crown.”

The cross is that place you go to when you are in need. It is a refuge from the storms of life; a place to retreat to for refreshment, strength, and forgiveness.

The hymn, O Cross of Christ, Immortal Tree, exemplifies the salvific, hopeful aspect of the Holy Cross:

“O Cross of Christ, immortal tree on which our Savior died. The world is sheltered by your arms that bore the Crucified. O faithful Cross, you stand unmoved while ages run their course. Foundation of the universe, Creation’s binding force. Give glory to the risen Christ and to his Cross give praise. The sign of God’s unfathomed love, the hope of all our days.”

I was re-reading a homily that I preached back in 2012. I presented a thought about the cross that I had not thought of in a while. I share the text of that homily here:

“I’m not paranoid! It’s just that people are out to get me. Jesus could have said this. The only difference is that He already knew that. It was part of his mission. Evil people conspire to attack the just one because they cannot stand his goodness. We too can face this same type of derision. Choose the good, right thing to do and reject the evil wrong thing; follow the rules and don’t cheat and we will face the resentment of others- they will oppose us. Ever been called a “goodie two-shoes”? We all have more than once in our lives.

Bad things happen when we forget the right thing and allow our passions to run amok. We can fall into the trap of using others for our own selfish gratification. We can easily deny doing this, make excuses and the like; but, truth be told we all have and will use others to get ahead no matter who gets hurt. This practice can cause us to live miserable lives fraught with jealousy, resentment, and loneliness. We are called to a different way of living. Sure, it will not be easy, but remember God will be with you. We are called to live with a spirit of peace, gentleness, and mercy. It is only then that we will be able to live with others as God intended. Do this, and there will be no sense of missing out on something. Rather, we will be more willing to share what we have with those that need our help. This lifestyle may, at times be painful and cause some level of suffering.

When we suffer and pray to God for help and guidance, God, at times, will intervene in powerful ways to right wrongs- miracles can and do happen. Other times God’s answer is to trust in the midst of suffering- rather than making things better, God’s answer is “Meet you on the Cross!” Either way, God answers our appeal in the most loving manner; whether we think so or not. God’s lesson to us of what it means to be a true child of God; brother or sister of Christ.

Jesus does not use the word Messiah. He prefers to use the term Son of Man when he describes himself. (The term “Son of Man” comes from the book of Daniel and from the “Song of the Suffering Son of Man” in Isaiah). The disciples fail to understand Jesus prediction of his passion. They, like us are clinging to power instead of the more spiritual life view of peace gentleness and mercy. They are totally missing the point of Christ’s mission to serve. Jesus instructs them, and us, that whoever serves a child is doing his will. Children cannot pay us back, so serving a child (or those who are powerless and lack influence in society) is to serve Christ himself.

Let us work to live with a spirit of gentleness, peace, and mercy. Risk being derided because of your goodness; accept God’s answer to meet you on the cross when you are down and suffering. Through it all never forget to praise God and Jesus. Have faith, suffer gladly, be merciful, and live God’s mission for us.”
I find the thought that God will meet us at the cross very comforting. It reminds me that God is with us at all times, even when we are less than what we should be.

Started with a hymn, so I end with one. In The Cross of Christ, I Glory.

“In the cross of Christ, I glory, towering o’er the wrecks of time; all the light of sacred story gathers round its head sublime.

When the woes of life o’ertake me, hopes deceive, and fears annoy, never shall the cross forsake me. Lo! it glows with peace and joy.

When the sun of bliss is beaming light and love upon my way, from the cross the radiance streaming adds more luster to the day.

Bane and blessing, pain and pleasure, by the cross are sanctified; peace is there that knows no measure, joys that through all time abide.”

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