My therapeutic cedar-wood handling cross

I recently bought a sculpted wooden object that nestles easily in the palm of my hand. It was made in ‘The Holy Land’ of timber from the olive tree (or was it cedar of Lebanon?), its many bevelled edges smoothly polished, and sold by The Leprosy Mission to raise funds to treat victims of that disfiguring disease. They advertised it as a handling cross.

I fondle it regularly, but I freely admit that it has never induced any spiritual thoughts or religious emotions, but simply has a peacefully therapeutic, tactile effect on me. Its cruciform shape permits me to vary my fingering and holding patterns.

After the first week of constant usage I made myself face the question of why it had never particularly inspired me to muse on Calvary. By way of an answer I tried to recall the words of a sacred song that was popular in my childhood – The Old Rugged Cross. When I finally tracked down the lyrics I noticed that I’d forgotten several lines and misquoted a few phrases. And I discovered that, when sung, the adjective ‘rugged‘ is repeated a dozen times – once in every verse, followed by twice in each successive chorus! The dictionary defines rugged as ‘rough, ragged and jagged’ – quite the opposite of smooth!

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 lost sinners was slain.

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

O that old rugged cross, so despised by the world
a wondrous beauty I see;
for the dear Lamb of God left his glory above
to bear it to dark Calvary.

In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
a wondrous attraction I see,
for ‘twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died
to pardon and sanctify me.

To that old rugged cross I will ever be true,
its shame and reproach gladly bear;
then he’ll call me some day to my home far away,
where his glory forever I’ll share.

I am writing this article midway through the traditional season of Lent, so I offer some scriptural thoughts on that Roman means of execution on which our Saviour died.

 [] The Awful Suffering of Christ on the cross

The cross of Christ did not feel smooth, of course. When referring to his painful death on that historic Good Friday we should not use smooth words. The apostle Paul described his evangelistic preaching in one of his letters to the church in Corinth:

‘Christ didn’t send me to baptize, [he delegated that duty to members of his mission team] but to preach the Good News and not with clever speech, for feat that the cross of Christ would lose its power’ (1 Corinthians 1:17, New Living Translation).

[] The absolute Sacrifice of his death on my behalf

‘. . . when Christ came into the world, he said to God, “You did not want animal sacrifices” . . . For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time’ (see Hebrews 10:5-10 NLT).

[] The Annihilation of my Self-life by being crucified with Christ

‘My old self has been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me’ (Galatians 2:20).

P.S. While writing these few paragraphs I mislaid my handling cross, so it could not become a sentimental idol! After this confession I finally located it.


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