by Michelle Bauman
We sang “Lift High the Cross” today at church. I’m certain I’ve sung it more than a hundred times in my life; it was a staple of my childhood, an easy hymn to belt out alongside my little brothers in the pew. I have lots of memories involving the hymn, memories that include competitions to see which one of us was the loudest singing “soldier” as we raised our arms above our heads and made crosses with our fingers.
Because of its frequency and place in my childhood, I’ll admit that “Lift High the Cross” hasn’t been a favorite hymn of mine as an adult. Though I certainly don’t dislike it, I don’t long for it either. It’s an easy one to sing without thinking, an easy one overlook.
But after attending church twice last week with someone new to the faith, I recognize that this gift of repetition, this hymn’s longevity in my life, is an incredible blessing.
Why? Because the truths contained in “Lift High the Cross” have shaped both my identity and purpose. It reminds me that the sign of the cross, born on the brows of each baptized believer, is the seal of salvation given to me. This same cross has been a mark of love and belonging that has shaped and directed my own paths—my marriage, my career, and the raising of my children. It is my rallying point, the signet that leads me into battle. It is the image emblazoned on me that bears witness to the world.
At least it’s supposed to be.
At the bottom of each hymn in The Lutheran Service Book there is at least one Bible reference. “Lift High the Cross” has four, and I only read through one before the law hit home. John 12:32. You remember it. Jesus declares He will be lifted up and draw all people to Himself. He will give life to everyone by dying a horrendous death. He will sacrifice Himself selflessly because He is love.
Just a few verses later, we read that many people believed Him, but “for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.” (John 12:41-43).
Ouch. That stings a little.
How often do we, like the people in Jesus’ day, fail to confess Christ because we are surrounded by those who would shun us? How often do we cover the mark on our own foreheads when our social media feed declares we should hide? How often do we fail to lift high the cross? A lot.
It wouldn’t be such a tragic oversight if the world didn’t need our witness, but it does. Stanza five reminds us of our goal:
Let ev’ry race and ev’ry language tell
Of Him who saves our lives from death and hell
Our mission doesn’t get any clearer than that, does it?
Just as Christ was lifted up on the cross for us, so too are we meant to lift the cross up to others. We are designed to declare Christ’s love for the world. As Christ’s singing soldiers, we loudly proclaim the message of life and salvation found only in Him, and when we love and uphold life without abandon, we do just that.
Set before our own eyes, this same cross brings life, salvation, and love to us. Though we soldiers have failed miserably, the cross assures our forgiveness, and gives us the strength necessary to stand firm in the battles ahead. May we cling to the cross of Christ and may He strengthen our faith and work for Him.