Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Hymns for Lent IV: Beneath the Cross of Jesus

[NOTE: The fourth in a series of seven blog posts on Lent. The full series is available here. Enjoy!]

Continuing the theme of meditating on the events of Good Friday, we turn to a well known and much-beloved hymn:  'Beneath the Cross of Jesus,' written by Elizabeth Clephane shortly before her death.  As noted by the editor of the magazine where the hymn was first printed (after Clephane's death), 'These lines ex­press the ex­per­i­enc­es, the hopes and the long­ings of a young Christ­ian late­ly re­leased. Writ­ten on the ve­ry edge of life, with the bet­ter land ful­ly in view of faith, they seem to us foot­steps print­ed on the sands of time, where these sands touch the ocean of Etern­i­ty. These foot­prints of one whom the Good Shep­herd led through the wild­er­ness in­to rest, may, with God’s blessing, con­trib­ute to com­fort and di­rect suc­ceed­ing pilgrims.'


Beneath the cross of Jesus I fain would take my stand,
The shadow of a mighty rock within a weary land;
A home within the wilderness, a rest upon the way,
From the burning of the noontide heat, and the burden of the day. 
O safe and happy shelter, O refuge tried and sweet,
O trysting place where Heaven’s love and Heaven’s justice meet!
As to the holy patriarch that wondrous dream was given,
So seems my Savior’s cross to me, a ladder up to heaven. 
There lies beneath its shadow but on the further side
The darkness of an awful grave that gapes both deep and wide
And there between us stands the cross two arms outstretched to save
A watchman set to guard the way from that eternal grave. 
Upon that cross of Jesus mine eye at times can see
The very dying form of One Who suffered there for me;
And from my stricken heart with tears two wonders I confess;
The wonders of redeeming love and my unworthiness. 
I take, O cross, thy shadow for my abiding place;
I ask no other sunshine than the sunshine of His face;
Content to let the world go by to know no gain or loss,
My sinful self my only shame, my glory all the cross.

This hymn is essentially a paean to the cross.  The cross is extolled first as a shade in the desert, a place where we can rest in the cool of the morning.  (Ps. 63:1; Ps. 84:2-3; Ps. 107:35-36; Is. 4:5-6; Is. 43:19-20; Hos. 13:5-6)  He who had no home on earth would become our home (Matt. 8:20), our rest (Ps. 62:1-2; Matt. 11:28), our Sabbath (Heb. 4:1-10), and our peace (Eph. 2:14-16).  The cross is living water for our souls (John 4:10-14; Rev. 7:17) It soothes, refreshes, cleanses, heals, and nourishes us. In the cross, we find comfort.

More than this, the cross is our refuge, our shelter.  (2 Sam. 22:2-3; Ps. 9:9; Ps. 27:5; Ps. 46:1; Ps. 91:1-2; Is. 4:5-6; Is. 25:4)  In the cross we have protection from harm--not that we will necessary avoid all hardship or suffering.  But we know that because of the cross, God will use that suffering for our good and His glory (Rom. 8:28) and he will enable us to endure it well (I Cor. 10:13).  In the cross, we see the intersection of God's love and justice--his mercy and his holiness.  (Ps. 85:10; Hos. 2:19-20).  In the cross, God poured out his righteous wrath for sin; yet in love that wrath was poured out on Christ in our stead. (Rom. 5:8-9)  In this way, the cross is a second Jacob's ladder, opening the way for us to heaven.  (Gen. 28:11-12)  In the cross, we find salvation and a way to God.

In this rendition, the grave is situated behind the cross, so that the cross literally bars us from it, standing in the way of death.  (John 5:24; John 8:51) Christ has conquered death completely; because of his death and resurrection, we need not fear the tomb.  (I Cor. 15:54-55)  In the cross, we find life eternal.

The fourth verse contains one of my all-time favorite lines:  "And from my stricken heart with tears two wonders I confess; the wonders of redeeming love and my unworthiness."  This is the heart of our reaction to the gospel--the knowledge of what we deserve and simple awe at the wholly unmerited grace that we have received in Christ.  Christ's substitutionary death on our behalf is what reconciles us to God.  (Rom. 6:10; I Pet. 3:18)  This thought should bring tears to our eyes--tears of grateful, humble wonder.  In the cross, we find undeserved pardon for sin.

The final verse culminates in the realization that we need nothing apart from Christ.  He is our sun. (Rev. 22:5)  We abide in him.  (John 15:4-5)  Compared to him, no gain or loss matters. (Phil. 3:7-8) We no longer boast in ourselves and what we have done, for we realize that our only contribution to our salvation is our wicked, sinful heart.  Instead, we boast in Christ, his mercy, and his finished work on the cross.  (I Cor.1:31; Gal. 6:14) In the cross, we find humble contentment and peace.

It's easy to think of the comfort of answered prayer or the warmth of God's felt presence.  I confess that all too often, I fail to see the cross as my source of comfort, but that is precisely what it is.  And even though this week is supposed to be rather somber, I cannot keep the joy from seeping through.  What a blessed comfort the cross is--what a glorious expression of love.  It really is like cool water on a hot day, like a mighty fortress against sin, a ladder to heaven, a insurmountable roadblock in the way of death.  As the Lenten season draws to a close, I hope that I will abide in the shadow of the cross, and continue to marvel at this beautiful and multi-faceted jewel, the culmination of the gospel that saves me from my sin, to the glory of God. 

(Honorable mention:  'The Old Rugged Cross.'  'I will cling to the old rugged cross [...] For 'twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died / To pardon and sanctify me.')

We'll continue to meditate on the events of Good Friday in the coming entries before moving on to the joyous celebration of Easter.

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