The Old Rugged Cross


The first verse of my favorite Lenten hymn goes like this:

“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.”

“Faith should cost you something.” I’ve been thinking about this a lot this week, this Holy Week. I’ve been thinking about how easy it is to want to fit faith into our lives rather than fit our lives into the faith we proclaim. To be a person of faith in 2014, I suspect, is no more difficult than at anytime. But perhaps it is difficult in a different way from previous times. Granted more people are significantly less religious, practice their faith, etc. in this part of the world. Which can make faith more of an individual endeavor – which it always is. But less a communal activity – which it ought to be as well.

This past week I had a conversation with someone about faith and spirituality and the place it has in our lives. And I was talking about how faith is not just necessary for me to be able to have a full life, but it gives me a sense of belonging. But I think in that sense of belonging, I also have a sense of obligation which can be easy to forget. I think sometimes its easy to forget that in faith, there ought to be a real relationship with God, and not only with God but with people, because of faith. The two should interact with each other. That God isn’t just some genie that we go to whenever we are in need, and that people aren’t just human beings around us that we have a quid pro quo relationship with. Faith should cost us something and it should cost us something real.

It’s a paradox, I think, that it’s easy to both celebrate and forget about God when life is going as planned; when things are going well. Yet it’s just as much of a paradox to find one both closer to God, yet questioning His presence, when we are desperately in need. This tells me then that whether we are in joy and jubilation or whether we are in pain or sorrow, God is never far from us, even when one feels far from Him. And as a Christian this reminds me the Jesus who we celebrate in all His glory on Easter, is the same One we ought to celebrate in all His shame on the cross. My mother used to say you can’t fully appreciate the risen Christ if you don’t appreciate the crucified Christ. I think it’s true. And I think it’s true for us – we don’t truly embrace our joy if we haven’t fully embraced our sorrows.

My Lent this year wasn’t particularly great. I’ve been distracted, inattentive, mostly going through the motions, which perhaps is a function of the state of my life as it prepares for another transition. And taking that good advice Catholics know all too well of “offering it up,” I’ve realized that whether we found ourselves mostly in joy or in pain or somewhere in between, that our faith will meet us where we are if we let it. And if we pay whatever price we must for faith, we often find that our reward is more faith, more hope, more love, to bear our burdens, and to celebrate our joy, never forgetting that we cannot authentically have one without the other.

Because as the chorus of that hymn continues,

“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.”