April 7—The Old Rugged Cross

O that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,

Has a wondrous attraction for me;

For the dear Lamb of God left his glory above

To bear it to dark Calvary. (“The Old Rugged Cross” by George Bennard)

Along the way, they came across a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. And they went out to a place called Golgotha (which means “Place of the Skull”). The soldiers gave Jesus wine mixed with bitter gall, but when he had tasted it, he refused to drink it. After they had nailed him to the cross, the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice. Then they sat around and kept guard as he hung there. A sign was fastened above Jesus’ head, announcing the charge against him. It read: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” (Matthew 27:32–37 NLT)

More than eighty years ago, J. R. R. Tolkien coined the word eucatastrophe by affixing the Greek prefix eu, meaning good, to the word catastrophe. To Tolkien, a “good catastrophe” is that sudden turn at the end of a story where a hero in dire peril implausibly comes out on top. It is seen repeatedly throughout his works, but Tolkien also connected it to the Gospel story. For Tolkien, the resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the crucifixion because it is in the resurrection that the cross is transformed from a thing of execution and pain to a thing of glory and respect.

Christ’s death on the cross was by no means glorious. He had been beaten so thoroughly that Simon of Cyrene was forced to carry Jesus’s cross because He could not longer do so Himself. The soldiers made bets over His clothes. The sign that hung over His head, under Pilate’s command, could be understood as either a descriptor of who He was or as something a bit more mocking. At face value, there is nothing beautiful or good about his scene. And yet, for Christians, this scene is one that we cherish and count as so crucial to our faith that the cross itself has become the very symbol of our faith.

When we are in the midst of catastrophes, such as the current coronavirus pandemic, it can be hard to see the eu, the good, that God will enact to transform what was once ugly and difficult into something glorious and good, turning a catastrophe into a eucatastrophe. Ask God to grant you the faith to endure this current catastrophe and eyes to see beyond the immediate into the good that He is already causing to blossom and grow.