“BENEATH THE CROSS OF JESUS” – 1868
For the message of the cross is. . . to us who are being saved . . . the power of God.
1 Corinthians 1:18
The author of this hymn, Elizabeth Celphane, was a born in Edinburgh, where her father was Sheriff of Fife. One of her siblings later wrote: “My sister was a very quiet little child, shrinking from notice and was always absorbed n books. The loss of both her parents at an early age taught her sorrow. As she grew up, she was recognized as the cleverest one of our family. She was first in her class and a favorite at school. Her love for poetry was a passion. Among the sick and suffering she won the name, ‘My Sunbeam.’” (Elizabeth’s own comment on her nickname is written into a line of this hymn: “I take, O Cross, thy shadow for my abiding place;/ I ask no other sunshine than the sunshine of His face.”)
At some point, Elizabeth’s family moved to Melrose, southeast of Edinburgh, where she spent her remaining years. Though frail, she as a diligent Bible student, a sympathetic listener, and a worker among the poor. She and her sisters raised money for the unfortunate, on one occasion selling their horse and carriage for a needy family.
Elizabeth’s poems were published in the Scottish magazine, The Family Treasury. This one, appearing after her death, was discovered by Ira Sankey, and introduced it in the great Moody/Sankey meetings in Britain. In his autobiography, Sankey stated: “The author of this hymn, Elizabeth Celphane, also wrote the widely known hymn, “The Ninety and Nine,’ and these two were her only hymns. The first time this hymn was sung Is still fresh in my memory. The morning after I had composed the music, Rev. W. H. Aitkin was to speak at our mission in London. . .Before the sermon, I sang ‘Beneath the Cross of Jesus” as a solo; and as in the case of ‘The Ninety and Nine,’ much blessing came from its use for the first time. With eyes filled with tears and deeply moved, the preacher said to the audience; ‘Dear friends, I had intended to speak to you this morning upon the work of the Master, but this new hymn has made such an impression on my heart, and evidently upon your own, that I will defer my proposed address and speak to you on “The Cross of Jesus.”’”
Sankey’s tune has since been replaced in popular usage by ST. CHRISTOPHER, music composed for this hymn by Frederick C. Maker.
From the first day of Lent we have been studying, praying, and fasting in preparation for the moment the darkness of death is forced away by the first rays of sunlight on Easter Morning. We observed Maundy Thursday, remembering the Passover Meal shared by Jesus with his disciples, commemorating the intimacy of Jesus praying in the Garden, followed by his betrayal and arrest. Not only did Judas betray him, but one whom we would consider one of the “good people”, Peter, did as well. I have often identified with Peter in his humanness. What a struggle he had in every aspect of his preparation to become the Rock of the church. Jesus knew the human and loved him. He knew the imperfect and worked so hard to explain to him as well as the others what was to come and what would be demanded of them. As Peter denied Jesus on that night, can you see the love in the eyes of Jesus as he turns and sees Peter? Have you stood in those shoes? Have you felt that love and forgiveness flowing through your soul? I have!
The cross! We go to Calvary on Good Friday and our minds simply cannot comprehend the love it took for Jesus to willingly suffer the pain of torture and death for us. He sacrificed himself to save you and to save me! But can we leave him there? He was taken by Joseph of Arimathea to a borrowed tomb and laid there. We hear a great deal about the sealing of the tomb and what happened on Easter morning, but let’s not forget that he lay in that tomb on what we now call Holy Saturday. The disciples and all those who loved him were devastated by his death. None of them had believed this end could come to his life. They had not comprehended his teachings in which had he had explicitly described what was to happen and why. They were frightened for their own lives that night, cowering together for comfort, waiting for the light of day.
We have in the past celebrated Easter Vigils which took place on Holy Saturday, but the modern Protestant denominations have moved away from them. They were held beginning at sundown on Saturday before Easter and culminated with the dispelling of the darkness by the light of Easter morning.
As we remember the disciples huddled together, feeling forsaken and alone, can we imagine our own lives if that had been the end of the story? Lost, with no hope, how would we cope with life? Let us ponder on this on this Holy Saturday as Jesus’s body lies in the tomb.
How many times a day do we turn to Jesus and find him there? As the dawn arrives on Sunday, may you find renewed hope and strength from the Risen Christ! Let us proclaim on that day: He is Risen! Hallelujah!
Hastings College Choir: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qr7_i8HJ-Jo
AND for those of you who are missing the blessing of congregational singing, this congregation in London singing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CYfaU_d8Jw0
A MODERN interpretation of this theme by Kristyn Getty, who along with Keith Getty are two of the most prolific and popular songwriters of our day: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=drrmyCBYjrE
Grace and Peace to you!