‘Simply to Thy cross I cling’ (Augustus M. Toplady)

  1. Sheltering at the cross

The Rev Toplady wrote the hymn ‘Rock of Ages’ after sheltering in a massive cleavage in a rock face near his home when caught on a walk in a cloudburst of rain. He was reminded of the shelter from divine retribution due to offenders against God, provided in the spear-wounded side of his crucified Son (see John 19:31-37; Zechariah 12:10 – 13:1).

One member told our gathered church of her 95-year-old mother’s all-too-recent revelation. Although she was the widow of a long-serving church pastor and herself a lifelong churchgoer, she had only just realised that Jesus’ final word from his cross was not ‘I’m done in, I am finished’ but ‘My work is completed, it is finished’!

Moments before hearing this we had sung with a united voice of conviction the arresting line about Jesus’ death as ‘the split in history’ – certainly in sacred history, for all the temple offerings and holy festivals had pointed forward to that momentous event, as we prepared to break bread together and share ‘the cup of the covenant in my blood.’ We now gratefully looked back to the conclusive finality of what he had thereby accomplished ‘for us men and our salvation’.

  1. Clinging to the cross

I then added my testimony of the small ‘holding cross’ that my teenaged granddaughter had given me out of her Fair Trade Easter egg the previous Sunday. It was beautifully crafted to fit the hand from timber grown on an olive tree in Bethlehem – the birthplace of Jesus the carpenter of Nazareth. In all honesty, I am not a sentimental soul and definitely have never indulged in religious sentimentality. But all that previous week I had enjoyed looking at the twisted grain with its wide range of brown shades, as well as stroking its smooth texture – oh so different from his ‘old rugged cross’.

In former years I travelled far and wide in Christian ministry, and when away from home I often fingered my wedding ring to bring vividly to mind my beloved and our four precious children, and re-affirmed my covenant commitment to them. And now, despite my anti-ritualistic upbringing, I was finding that ‘clinging’ to this symbolic cross brought just as vividly to mind the unseen Jesus and my worldwide family of his disciples. 

  1. Boasting in the cross

Our resolve should be: ‘[F]ar be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which [my ego has been dealt a fatal blow and] the world [and its social status and religious kudos] has been crucified to me, and I to the world’ (Galatians 6:14). This lesson was presumably learnt by Paul after his failure to win the vote in the debate in Athens (the contemporary equivalent of the Oxford University Debating Society). By the time of his arrival from there at the sea port of Corinth his intention was determined: ‘I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.’ ‘For Christ … [sent] me …  to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom [= philosophy for which the Athenians were famous, see Acts 17:16-34], lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power’ (1 Corinthians 1:17 – 2:2)

* Let’s arm ourselves with this same resolve.

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