Every beginning of the month, I play this song as an instrumental for our church service because it has always been one of my favorite hymns. As I play the notes, the lyrics always come flooding before me, challenging me to look upon the beauty and shame of the cross, and what it took for me to be forgiven. Unknowingly, the notes almost become heavy as the truth makes way amidst the melody. Then there is the last verse, that always humbles me and assures me of His victory, and the glory in store for us, despite us. And the chorus continues to be a ballast of hope, “I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it someday for a crown.”
It is not the actual cross, for many have been crucified prior to Jesus, but like everything else, without Jesus, everything is as it is. He alone is what gives meaning to the ordinary. And to the cross, He has brought a sacrifice, a price paid, so that through His wounds we are healed and brought back to the Father . The cross is just an emblem. Jesus is the reason we can someday exchange it for a crown.
I sometimes stop the choir when we go over a piece, and ask them why the author chose to arrange the song a certain way, and you’ll notice that the musical dynamics, chord progressions, ascent of notes, and even the rhythm are making way for the words, trying to convey an emphasis in very strategic parts of the song. You can see it when the song soars in the middle of the chorus of this hymn- and the notes ascend on “I will cling”, even giving that that high D a dotted eighth note, giving an emphasis of the desperation and need. Then the song descends into this state of rest, with such a contrast from the imagery of the previous measures.