“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 people of the city) took palm branches and went out to meet Him (Jesus), shouting, ‘Hosanna!’ ‘Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ‘Blessed is the King of Israel!’ Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it” (John 12:12-13), fulfilling prophecy uttered in Zechariah 9:9, “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding 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 replied, ‘…I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds… Now My heart is troubled, and what shall I say? “Father, save Me from this hour”? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour…. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.’ He said this to show the kind of death He was going to die” (John 12:23-24, 27, 33).
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.”
“Carrying His own cross, He went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). Here they crucified Him, and with Him two others – one on each side and Jesus in the middle.… knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus' lips. When He had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, He bowed His head and gave up His spirit” (John 19:17-18, 19:28-30).
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 has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:54b-57).