September 13, 2019

The Old Rugged Cross

St. Theodore of Studite (759-826) wrote that he saw traces of the Holy Cross in several biblical events of the Old Testament:

  • First, on the pile of wood that Abraham placed his son, Isaac.
  • Second, on the wood of the Ark which Noah, his family, and all species of animals were saved.
  • Third, in the wooden staff of Moses that, among other things, divided the Red Sea for the salvation of the Israelites.

In the Passion according to John, there is quick movement from the supper that Jesus and his disciples enjoyed together to the garden they would enter; the garden to which Judas would bring the chief Priests and Pharisees along with their soldiers. From that point on, we might say that events “spun out of control” and that an innocent man was: beaten and scourged; forced to carry the preferred Roman instrument of death; and ultimately, affixed to it and lifted up for all to mock until he drew his last breath.

However, from that first Good Friday to the present, Christians (in the light of the Resurrection) have come to know the Wood of the Cross not merely as an instrument of torture, but rather, as an instrument of Love.

St. Paul had much to say about this:

  • “The message about Christ’s death on the cross is nonsense to those who are being lost; but for those who are being saved it is God’s power.” (1 Cor 1:18)
  • “As for me, I will boast only about the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Gal 6:14)
  • “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, be we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor 22-24)

Another, perhaps one that Michiganders might claim as a “local,” also had something to say about this. For although he was born in Ohio and raised in Ohio, it was in Adrian, Michigan, in 1912, that evangelist George Bernard penned a song that became an instant hit within churches and country music. The song, The Old Rugged Cross, recalls that we humans sometimes find ourselves enveloped by: economic circumstances, suffering, spiritual persecution, pain, and numerous forms of sorrows. In each of our lives, there are examples. Not long ago, I sat with a woman who had been diagnosed with Stage-4 cancer. Initially, she told me that her questions to God were devoted to the word—Why. Eventually, however, her question to God became “Why me?” After a time, she heard a quiet response: “Attach your suffering to Me, to the wood of my Cross, and trust Me.”

In our increasingly secularized and unbelieving culture, the Old Rugged Cross has duel meanings:

  • To unbelievers, it is the day in which the historic figure, Jesus, was crucified by Roman soldiers carrying out their orders. For them, it is a point in history. Case closed.
  • To believers, however, the Old Rugged Cross of Good Friday means everything. It is the day that Our Lord Jesus Christ took upon himself the sins of the world and obliterated them. It is the day of our redemption. It is the day upon which Jesus, through his sacrificial death, purchased believers from the slavery of sin and gave us new life—-in Him!

To recall a few verses from The Old Rugged Cross:

“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 sinners was slain…So, I’ll cherish the old rugged cross, til my trophies at last I lay down; I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it some day for a crown.”

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Written by
Deacon Kurt Godfryd

REVEREND MR. KURT GODFRYD is editor of Catholic Journal and a permanent deacon of the Archdiocese of Detroit. Married and the father of five children, Deacon Kurt was ordained to the diaconate on October 4, 2008 by His Eminence Adam Cardinal Maida and is assigned to St. Clement of Rome parish in Romeo, Michigan. A native Detroiter, he was educated at the Jesuit-run University of Detroit Mercy, where he received a B.S. in finance, M.B.A., and M.A. in economics. His theological training was taken at Detroit's Sacred Heart Major Seminary, where he earned an M.A. in pastoral ministry.

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Written by Deacon Kurt Godfryd
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