Monday, June 15, 2015

Whatever Happened To The Old Rugged Cross?

It was close to the end of school and we were coming to the climax of both classes I teach, 8th grade Bible which focuses on the book of Luke and Gospels, which is an immersion into Matthew-Mark-Luke-John. The climax, of course, is the crucifixion of Jesus Christ followed by His resurrection from the dead! In one of my five sections, I referenced something I heard many years ago on television. Some televangelist said, and I quote, "The Bible never says Jesus was crucified on a hill." I thought he was wrong and checked it out and....... he was right. You know why I thought that; the first line of The Old Rugged Cross. Out of curiosity, I asked my students that period how many of them knew the hymn, The Old Rugged Cross. The shocking answer, at least to me? None of them had ever heard of it. Now granted, I have some international kids in my classes but the overwhelming number of youngsters I teach come from conservative religious backgrounds and often are in church services. I found myself becoming sad over that revelation.

At Christmas, I bought a book at the Barnes And Noble several blocks from Dave and Sally's house in Wichita. Actually, I bought two- the other was a One Year Bible in the NLT. But the one I'm speaking of is called The Complete Book Of Hymns, subtitled Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns And Praise Songs. Do you know what it says about The Old Rugged Cross? That every year from 1925 to 1960, it was voted America's favorite hymn. And now? Our kids have never even heard of it. I absolutely understand that tastes in spiritual songs change and that the old hymns were once new and had to gain widespread acceptance to survive. The book also explains how the hymn's author, George Bennard, while struggling in his personal life, based his words on John 3:16 as he came to see the Cross as 'the very heart of the Gospel.' (page 138) I think that just echoes what Paul wrote in 1st Corinthians 1 and 2, about preaching Christ crucified and knowing nothing else. So many hymns we sang when I was little had that word in the title, hymns like:
At The Cross
Am I A Soldier Of The Cross?
Must Jesus Bear The Cross Alone?
Beneath The Cross Of Jesus
Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken
When I Survey The Wondrous Cross
My guess is those are much less known now than even The Old Rugged Cross. I just pray we don't de-emphasize the Cross in our singing but if my students are an indicator, we might be going down that road, at least in terms of this one standard hymn. I have wept to those words penned by George Bennard in 1912. I have a confession to make: I need to keep weeping.

Applicable quote of the day:
“It is natural to speak of hymns as "poems," indiscriminately, for they have the same structure. But a hymn is not necessarily a poem, while a poem that can be sung as a hymn is something more than a poem. Imagination makes poems; devotion makes hymns. There can be poetry without emotion, but a hymn never. A poem may argue; a hymn must not. In short to be a hymn, what is written must express spiritual feelings and desires. The music of faith, hope and charity will be somewhere in its strain.”
Hezekiah Butterworth,
The Story of the Hymns and Tunes

God bless,
Luke 18:1
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