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We are now in the season of Lent, and our thoughts should be focused on the sufferings and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. Sometimes referred to as “the Fast” or as “the Forty”, the season of Lent can be a time for restitution and restoration.1
Sad to say, some Christians live each day oblivious of the sufferings, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We can be so caught up in the day-to-day affairs of life that our minds are focused on the brand names of our clothing, the size of our pay packages and the colour of our cars.
Lent calls us back to God and beckons us to turn our thoughts and attention toward God and His redeeming love through the cross of Jesus. The cross of Jesus was used by the Romans as an object of punishment, but God used it to reveal to us His great love and holiness. On the rugged cross, the Son of God willingly bore our sins and fulfilled what the justice of God required.
‘Beneath the Cross of Jesus’ was written by a frail Scottish Presbyterian woman by the name of Elizabeth Clephane. Born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1830, Elizabeth lost both her parents when she was young. Elizabeth was never very healthy but that did not stop her from being cheerful and helpful. Among the sick and dying in her area, Elizabeth won the nickname of “Sunbeam”, which may have inspired the lines in stanza 3: “I ask no other sunshine than the sunshine of his face.”
Elizabeth’s hymn is replete with biblical symbolism and imagery. For example in stanza 1, “a mighty rock in a weary land” is a reference to Isaiah 32:1-2, while the phase “a home within the wilderness” is taken from Jeremiah 9:2.2 To Elizabeth, the cross of Jesus is like a mighty rock that shelters her from the heat of the thirsty land and it is like a home within the desert where she can find rest from the burden of life.
Responding to Jesus’ call to discipleship, Elizabeth wrote, “I take, O cross, thy shadow for my abiding place.” Therefore she would be “content to let the world go by, to know no gain or loss” (stanza 3). Indeed it is in line with Paul’s thoughts in Philippians 3:8 – “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.”
During the Lenten season, let us find a place beneath the cross of Jesus to behold “the very dying form of One who suffered there for me” and ponder over “the wonders of [his] redeeming love” and our own unworthiness (stanza 2).
1 Laurence Hull Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 80.
2 Kenneth W. Osbeck, Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions (Grand Rapids, Mich: Kregel Publications, 1990), 116.
Dr Yeo Teck Beng is Principal of the Methodist School of Music, and a member of Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church.