Having led the odd parish music team here and there in my time, I like to think I’m reasonably knowledgeable of the various hymns about the place – good and bad. But last Sunday we sang a hymn that, well, was very moving and seemed not at all from the ‘spirit of Vatican II’ banjo kit. Call me ignorant, but I’d never heard of “The Old Rugged Cross”…
The Old Rugged Cross, so I’ve found, was a popular Christian hymn written by George Bennard, a Methodist evangelist around 1915…
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.
Ref. 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 exchanged it some day for a crown.
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 the 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.
Now, before we launch into long-winded discussions on either a) the theological ideas in the text (which I’m not at all that expert enough to do, except to know that Protestant theology tends to focus much more than Catholics on the ‘substitutive’ nature of Christ’s sacrifice, and much less on how we’re also saved in order to become God’s children) or b) whether this is an appropriate hymn to be singing at Mass (I didn’t choose the music!)…
…I’d like instead to focus on the two lines I bolded. Just for reflection.
“I’ll cherish that old rugged cross, til at last my old trophies lay down…”
I was a bit ‘recognition happy’ as a kid. Any sort of ‘recognition’ that was available – a certificate, a word of praise, an award, a good grade – I wanted in. So the use of the word ‘trophies’ cut right to the core for me, and much of my journey with Christ has been a case of learning to be drawn along by His love overflowing, and to channel that desire to achieve into something constructive, but not overpowering. In our individualistic culture today, where professional success is becoming a form of religion in itself, sadly, it’s quite a helpful thing to bear in mind. Christ is looking for faithfulness before success (not that success is bad, but just must be relegated to it’s right place).
“O that old rugged cross, so despised by the world, has a wondrous attraction to me.”
Some days, when it seems like Christ has been so utterly shoved out of the public square, when someone makes a dig at the Church on Facebook, when I can’t seem to explain articulately something about my faith to someone who doesn’t believe, or when I simply see the way in which the world is headed and wonder for a second if I’m just being ‘naïve’ by believing that all goodness and truth lies in Christ alone, it’s helpful to remember that my faith is going to appear bizarre, and despised, by the world. The measure of whether my faith actually is bizarre and despisable, well, that’s another thing…and that’s why it’s so helpful, I find, to try to grow both in faith and in understanding, faith and reason. So I need to box on, grow in faith and in understanding, and live out the Gospel with a humble spirit, and trust in the Holy Spirit to use me to communicate what He wills (which may not be as much or as quickly as I seem to think I need to).
What strikes you guys from that hymn?