This song must have meant something at one time. Now, a bad recording of it is being piped over an inferior sound system into the stifling closeness of a funeral parlor. My uncle lies stretched out in his best suit, looking decidedly dead, although I have just lied to my aunt, assuring her that he looks like he's "sleeping". Everyone sits quietly, looking at their hands; some weep quietly, some wonder how much longer this horrible song can go on.

The tenor is singing the song too slowly; as he hits the word "cherish", saccharine strings swell up to meet the sentiment. "Cherish the Old Rugged Cross"; few think of the absurdity that inheres in "cherishing" a torture device. Or in pumping a dead body full of preservatives and displaying it in a "parlor".

A priest gives a stiff eulogy ("...and let eternal light shine upon them..."), another pointless hymn is rendered by the same recorded tenor ("Nearer My God to Thee"), and as we file past the body to escape into a late spring rain, none of us seems too eager to shuffle off this mortal coil and join my uncle and Christ in glory. The remains of this afternoon, damp and too cold for early May, are enough for the living. We're willing to leave the "Old Rugged Cross" for the dead.
A popular, if sentimental, Christian hymn written - words and music - in 1913 by George Bennard, somewhere in Michigan or Wisconsin.

Last July, I came across theonomist's write-up for this node, which has now disappeared, but may be considered ... typical of his work. It's taken a while, but here is my properly-considered WU for this node. The original hymn is on the left, and my commentary is on the right. I apologise to Saige and everyone else for waxing theological for once, but I feel it necessary to explain the text.

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.

The cross is indeed the emblem of suffering.
Nothing can change that.
Do not be ashamed or afraid to admit this,
and do not be misled by any majestus or other
'glamorous' image of this instrument of torture.
But a Christian will cherish this awful thing
because it is a symbol of the life,
and the supreme commitment to love for one's fellow people,
of Jesus of Nazareth. It wasn't his fault
he died in this way. Theologians afterwards have
read much into the Passion, as they call it
but they can't change the fact that a man died a
slow, agonising death because he asked people to be
good to each other.

O that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,
Has a wondrous attraction for me;
For the dear Lamb of God left His glory above
To bear it to dark Calvary.

The world does indeed despise the cross,
and all that it represents. The world sent
Jesus away to a desert place to die in this brutal way.
Before and after, millions of other
innocents have suffered a similar fate.
And some, as ever, turn away from such things
or mock them, because they do not understand.
Let them laugh, or turn away.
To mock the cross is to mock the death of innocents.

In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
A wondrous beauty I see,
For 'twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,
To pardon and sanctify me.

Is there beauty in the cross?
Perhaps. Any attempt to impose
beauty upon it will necessarily be
somewhat grotesque. This hymn is, sadly
an example of such an attempt.
But to recall the cross as a symbol
of a life lived for others
is, I think, beautiful. We have
little else to remember Jesus by.
Did his death save us? If so, it saved us all
regardless of whether we buy into the
'Jesus loves you' meme or not.
If not, we can only honour the memory of
so good, and so innocent, a man.

To the 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.

What does it mean to be true to the cross?
Is the way of Christ necessarily the way of pain?
No - and I fear anyone who misinterprets the
sacrifice of Calvary and endures pain needlessly
under the misapprehension that it's God's way.
But pain can be a path to meditation for some,
and the contemplation of suffering is part of
understanding life, because - for whatever reason -
suffering, pain and death are part of life. Even for Jesus.

Everything Hymnal

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