Do you know the hymn The Old Rugged Cross? Here are just a couple of lines.
On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
the emblem of suffering and shame…
O that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,
has a wondrous attraction for me…
I’ll admit, though I have sung it countless times, I’ve never really loved this hymn. I always felt it celebrated the cross in a way I struggled to understand or truly feel. I mean, we United Methodists often have crosses in our sanctuaries and on our altars, but to sing about how much we love the cross? Should I be attracted to it; this symbol of capital punishment?
At a funeral recently I heard the song as if for the first time. (I’m slow about some of these things.)
I thought of the cross not with Jesus hanging in pain, dying for the sins of the world, but as the empty cross we feature in churches I have served. An empty cross points to a risen Christ. An empty cross says the worst the empires of the world could do was kill Jesus, but they could not end his life.
In the hymn, I imagined an empty cross that pointed to Jesus triumphant; Jesus the Risen One.
Which brings me back to why the cross in the first place? Me. You. All of us. It was our sins that led to his sacrifice. My brokenness that he died to heal. And it is in this season of Lent I am invited to remember, confess, and repent of all that made the cross necessary.
It is also the time I look forward to that empty cross.
Jesus did rise. Forgiveness is offered. New life is gifted to those who “cling to the old rugged cross” and to those who don’t but who turn to Jesus in their struggle and pain.
Here’s the hard part. The new life includes sacrificing our old life and that is why so many don’t. Who wants to be crucified? We focus on the cross and think of the death. It’s me singing The Old Rugged Cross before my epiphany. Listen again and remember the death is not the end of the story. The cross might look like losing, but there is more to what Jesus offers.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.Matthew 16:24-25
Life is better together,