“I still remember - that I was hewn down at the forest's edge, cut out of my tree trunk. Strong foes took me there, shaped me there for themselves in the form of a spectacle, commanded me to raise their criminals. Warriors carried me there on shoulders, until that they set me on a hill; many foes fastened me there. I then saw mankind's Lord hasten with great zeal; He wished to climb on me.”
Sound familiar? Possibly not. Taken from an ancient poem called the “Dream of the Rood” (translated here by Alexander Bruce), it was written by a Christian for the benefit of Anglo-Saxon warriors at the end of the tenth century. Through it, he weaves a tapestry of words for a hardy and rough warrior people who had only just begun to hear of the hope of Jesus Christ. From the perspective of the Cross of Calvary, the story was proclaimed that the Son of God willingly embraced death to take away the sin of the world.
“The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” (John 12:12-13 ESV), fulfilling prophecy uttered in Zechariah 9:9, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
The gentle Savior was coming in grace and not in judgment but He had no plans to just ride into Jerusalem and pick up His crown: He was coming to embrace the Cross. He knew that the crowds weren’t readying a throne for His use, but a tomb for His burial. He knew that on the other side of the shouts of “Hosanna!” were the frenzied calls to “Crucify Him!”
“Jesus answered, ‘…Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit… Now is My soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour…. He said this to show by what kind of death He was going to die” (John 12:23-24, 27, 33 ESV).
And so He pressed on to complete His ultimate mission, redeeming lost humanity by paying the price for their sin with His own perfect life.
The poem continues, “The young Hero stripped Himself - that was God almighty - strong and unflinching; He stepped up on the high cross, brave in the sight of many, where He wished to redeem mankind. I trembled when the Warrior embraced me; nor did I dare, however, to bow down to the earth, to fall to the surfaces of the earth. But I had to stand firm. As a rood (cross) I was erected; I raised the powerful King, the Lord of heavens… with iron-colored and sinister nails.”
“He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the place of a skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified Him, and with Him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them.… After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’ A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to His mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished,’ and He bowed His head and gave up His spirit” (John 19:17-18, 19:28-30 ESV).
The poem records the cross’s perspective further, “I was completely stained with blood, covered from the Man's side after He had released His spirit. I had endured on that hill much of cruel fates. I saw the God of hosts severely stretched out. Shades of night had covered with clouds the Lord's corpse, the bright radiance; shades went forth dark under the sky. All creation mourned, bewailed the King's fall; Christ was on the cross.”
For a typical Anglo-Saxon warrior, it was hard to understand why someone dying a criminal’s death could be said to be victorious. Yet, when the whole story was told, that His willing sacrifice of His own life would forever defeat our great enemies, sin and death, and yet rise again in glorious resurrection, the dirge of sorrow could only give way to the song of victory indeed!
And what was the final word on the matter in the poem “The Dream of the Rood”? “May the Lord be a Friend to me, the One Who here on earth earlier suffered on the gallows-tree for the sins of men: He liberated us and gave us again all life, a heavenly home.”
Let us recall that the Son of God was rushing into Jerusalem to keep His appointment with Calvary and that He even “hastened to climb the cross” for our sake. Let us remember that His sacrifice both washes our sin away and secures for us an eternity with Him. And let us also sing the song of victory!
“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the Law. But thanks be to God, Who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:54b-57 ESV).