My running route has turned into somewhat of an obstacle course with discarded Christmas trees strewn on the sidewalks. As I was running, I thought, only a month ago, these trees held special meaning and had a prominent place in the warmth and love of homes. I wondered how many family pictures were taken in front of these trees. How many children were in awe of the carefully decorated tree as presents were placed under it with love and care? I could picture the family loading up in the car for a very special outing as they drove to a tree farm or Christmas tree lot to pick out just the perfect tree! I could imagine the excitement in the air when the perfect tree was found and cut down and tied to the roof of the car! And only a few weeks later, it is thrown to the curbside. The once beautiful, green branches decorated with lights and ornaments are now a tarnished brown, waiting to be burned or shredded into mulch.
As I continued my run, I thought about another tree, a tree that was cut down for the purpose of making a cross. I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of tree it was that God’s Son hung upon?
The Bible does not tell us what type of wood the cross Jesus was crucified on was made of. Roman history does not go into specifics as to how the crosses were made or what type of wood was used.
There is a legend that the cross was made of dogwood. This is unlikely, considering the typical size of a dogwood tree. The legend of the dogwood tree, author unknown, is as follows:
In Jesus’ time, the dogwood grew
To a stately size and a lovely hue.
‘Twas strong and firm, its branches interwoven.
For the cross of Christ its timbers were chosen.
Seeing the distress at this use of their wood
Christ made a promise which still holds good:
Never again shall the dogwood grow
Large enough to be used so.
Slender and twisted, it shall be
With blossoms like the cross for all to see.
As blood stains the petals marked in brown,
The blossom’s center wears a thorny crown.
All who see it will remember Me,
Crucified on a cross from the dogwood tree.
Cherished and protected, this tree shall be
A reminder to all of My agony.
Again, this is just a legend. It is a nice poem, but there is no biblical basis to it.
Searching the internet, I found, “According to the sacred tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church, the True Cross was made from three different types of wood: cedar, pine and cypress.” Some sources suggest the cross came from an oak tree, but the truth of the matter is, it was probably whatever they could lay their hands on.
Wood was fairly scarce in the region at the time, and that used for crucifixions was often used repeatedly until it broke. Nailing people to a cross wasn’t common, most were seemingly tied using rope. A few name plaques from Roman crucifixions, made of olive wood, have been found, but it’s unlikely that this would have been used for the whole cross, since it was too valuable a crop tree to use.
I guess it really doesn’t matter what kind of tree was used to make the cross; it served its purpose — an innocent man, a sinless man, died upon that cross for my sins and for your sins.
“On a hill far away, stood an old rugged Cross
The emblem of suff’ring and shame
And I love that old Cross where the dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners was slain…”
It’s difficult for us, at a distance of 2,000 years, to imagine the shame of death by crucifixion.
Has the cross lost its meaning? Has it lost its power? Has the cross become like those old discarded Christmas trees that once held significant meaning, but now are nothing more than trash to be picked up by the garbage man?
When Jesus died, there were only a handful who believed in his innocence, and few of them had any power or influence. So the cross was a huge obstacle to Christianity. Who was going to follow a religion where the leader was apparently a criminal and who died in impotence and absurdity?
Yet, it’s through the cross that we’re saved. Our sins were nailed to the cross for all time, so that forgiveness became possible. Because of Jesus, we now receive forgiveness as a free gift.
Ash Wednesday is February 14th, when we will begin the season of Lent. Lent is a six week journey we make every year to that old rugged cross. As we travel to the cross, stained with blood, the blood of our Savior, may we reflect and meditate on that cross, that it may hold its true meaning and not be tossed out like an old Christmas tree.
In The Hymns of the United Methodist Hymnal: Introduction to the Hymns Canticles and Acts of Worship (Diana Sanchez, Volume Editor), we find this introduction to one of Fanny Crosby’s infamous hymns:
“According to Fanny Crosby, her lack of sight seemed to help her more fully focus on the spiritual aspects of life. She never felt handicapped, feeling instead that spiritual blindness was more tragic than physical blindness. This meditation on the power of the cross contains an interesting prayer from one who was sightless: ‘Near the cross! O Lamb of God, Bring it scenes before me.’ The author pictures in her mind’s eye the vision of Christ dying on the cross. The symbol of light is found in stanza 2: ‘There the bright and morning star sheds its beams around me,’ and concludes with the promise to watch and wait, hope and trust, forever.”
As we step into the Season of Lent, may this hymn be our guiding prayer…
- Jesus, keep me near the cross, There a precious fountain—Free to all, a healing stream, flows from Calv’ry’s mountain.
Refrain: In the cross, in the cross, be my glory ever; Till my raptured soul shall find Rest beyond the river.
- Near the cross, a trembling soul, love and mercy found me; There the bright and morning star sheds its beams around me.
- Near the cross! O Lamb of God, bring its scenes before me; Help me walk from day to day, with its shadows o’er me.
- Near the cross I’ll watch and wait hoping, trusting ever, till I reach the golden strand, just beyond the river.
Photo by Lynn Friedman