March 9, 2011

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

--image from the Ancient Sculpture Galley Collection of Icons

This hymn, written by Isaac Watts around 1707, is one of the first hymns written in "first person." This means the author simply told his personal response to a spiritual insight in the lyrics. This hymn's fourth verse, rarely used these days (too bad), is one of the most powerful in the song and was based on Galatians 6:14.

"His dying crimson, like a robe,
Spreads o'er His body on the tree:
Then am I dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me."

When the writer says he "surveys" the wondrous cross, what he really means is he reflects upon, deeply considers, and meditates on the cross. Another writer---sadly, I cannot recall the name--wrote of the shame and scandal of the cross. Why would the Son of God disgrace Himself by dying, and by dying such a horrible, painful, torturous death? Every religious tradition includes sacrifice, but only Christianity shows a God who loves us enough to die for us.

The cross is not "wonderful"; it's "wondrous." It's incomprehensible to me that someone perfect, without flaw would chose the most painful way to atone for or make good on my mistakes and my flaws. Jesus, always in control of His situation, challenged His opposition by asking them "Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?" (John 8:46) I don't doubt for one minute they would have listed his errors if they could.

It's Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Season of Lent. The cross is wondrous because it reminds me the price of getting right with God and staying right with God is very, very high. It reminds me this is not something I could have initiated, but it is something I can continue by my choices and priorities. The wondrous cross reminds me God saw something in me worth dying for, and chose to do so in order to bring me back into fellowship with Him. Honestly, when I look at myself, I don't see enough there to cost someone his or her life. But God saw that worth in me, and that was a priceless love I cannot deny.

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