When holiday celebrations correspond with our blog article publish date, we often take the opportunity to consider a piece of related music. Today when are going to continue that tradition and bask in the beauty and message of the 19th century English Christian hymn, “Lift High the Cross.”
This hymn was written in 1887 by George Kitchin and late in 1916 it was revised by Michael R. Newbolt. The revision portion is included because the hymn linked at the bottom is by Newbolt. In 1887 Kitchin was in his tenure as the Church of England Dean of Winchester. Supposedly, it was Constantine the Great‘s conversion to Christianity after seeing a cross with the words “In hoc signo vinces” on it that inspired Kitchin to write this hymn.
“Lift High the Cross” is a popular hymn choice during Holy Week. However, there is some discussion among Christian scholars as to the true meaning of the cross in the context of this hymn. One opinion is it references the crucifixion. While others contend that the cross is a metaphor for the resurrection.
I was not aware of this debate until I discovered it in preparing to write this article. These conflicting opinions have caused me to reflect more on what my assumptions have always been and furthermore, on why I find this hymn to be so moving. There are two big ideas that swirl through my heart and soul when I hear “Lift High the Cross.” First, is the musicality and its triumphant tone that are inescapable. The second are those opening four words, “lift high the cross.” It is a celebration while at the same time a calling forth or a challenge. Normally, I do not have the same thought when a hear a hymn or any other song for that matter, but with this hymn my mind always goes towards the same question of does my life “lift high the cross?”
Whether or not the hymn is an old favorite or is new to you, it’s words and musical arrangement are worth dwelling on while considering our own lives. Ask yourself my question, but do not lose sight of the celebratory nature of this hymn. This is particularly fitting for Holy Week when we should all be more mindful and preparing for the celebration of Easter. As we rehearse those days leading up to the resurrection, either through various church services or scripture readings or because we know the story and this time of year brings it to the forefront of our thoughts, it is good to be grieved by the horrific death Christ endured. It is good to be overwhelmed with the knowledge of our own sin and the atonement that was made for them through the cross. And, it is to good to celebrate with all glory laud and honor the resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ. This hymn stirs my soul and causes me to pause and consider all of it the cross, my sin, and the resurrection, so that I am able to proclaim with gladness on Easter morning and all the other days of the year as well, The Lord has risen! Christ has risen indeed!
Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim,
Till all the world adore His sacred name.
Led on their way by this triumphant sign,
The hosts of God in conquering ranks combine.
Each newborn servant of the Crucified
Bears on the brow the seal of Him who died.
O Lord, once lifted on the glorious tree,
As Thou hast promised, draw the world to Thee.
So shall our song of triumph ever be:
Praise to the Crucified for victory.
Crosland Stuart, of Crosland & Company, LLC, works with The Collaborative
on vocational guilds and content creation. Additionally, she also works in the areas of
foundation consulting, communications, and is a literary agent.