The Old Rugged Cross–Alan Jackson
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.
On Good Friday, our church was very full. Each year, the students from a local school put on a put on a play depicting the passion of Christ for the children of the parish. Later, the people are invited to come forward to venerate the cross. As we prepared for this ritual, the priest urged us to think about our challenges and our worries, and then to symbolically lay them on the cross as we approached. It’s one thing to think, in the abstract, that everyone has cares and burdens. It’s quite another to see, with my own eyes, hundreds of people come to silently bow, genuflect, or touch the cross in their turn. Some two thousand years after He walked this earth, Jesus still heals broken people every day, and brings hope to those who need it. The priest’s words about the cross brought to mind the recent passing of a well-loved great aunt on my mother’s side of the family.
About six weeks ago, I received news that my great aunt was in her final days in the intensive care unit. She was a small, spirited lady with a sharp wit, a kind heart, and a big family. I remember happy visits to her home when I was a child–she made some great desserts! A few months ago, I brought my youngest son with me to see her in the long-term care facility. She still had funny comments, and made me laugh, but she had been slowly failing for the last few years. Along with many others in our extended family, I prayed that she would not suffer long before leaving this world. She lingered longer than the doctors expected, and during that time, she was surrounded by the loving presence of her adult children as they kept a vigil with her.
When I received a call to help with the music at her funeral, I accepted it as an honour. During the practice, two of her sons shared that in her last moments, they had been singing to her at her bedside. As she passed, they were singing The Old Rugged Cross. What a beautiful way to leave this world and enter into the next! What a wonderful tribute to their mother, and a testament to the peace that their faith brought them. It was a privilege to accompany them as they sang at her funeral. I have a completely new appreciation for this song, and for the strength of those amazing cousins of mine. It amazes me, the peace that embracing Jesus and the cross can bring in difficult times–and yet, it doesn’t, because I’ve experienced it for myself when in need. It’s reassuring to know that, even when so many things in our lives change, God is always the same, and always there.
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.