Lift High the Cross

Hymn of the Month for November

This Pastor's Pen article continues Pastor Cowell's "Hymn of the Month" series in which he shares a brief commentary on the theology and history behind some of the hymns we enjoy singing from the Lutheran Service Book.  The full text of the hymn is included at the bottom of the post.  
Weimar Altarpiece (1555), Lucas Cranach the Elder and Lucas Cranach the Younger. Public Domain.
Our Hymn of the Month for November, Lift High the Cross, is actually a combination of two separate hymns from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Paul J Cain, in Lutheran Service Book: Companion to the Hymns, gives a thoughtful devotional description of the themes and theology of each stanza of Lift High the Cross.  The following is a direct quotation of Cain’s article:
Stanza 1 echoes the militarism of “Onward, Christian soldiers” (LSB 662) and the battle that the Church Militant wages against evil spiritual powers. The Church is at war with the devil, the world, and the sinful human flesh that remains in the Christian. This stanza, due to a current bias against male, royal, or military imagery, is often omitted in other hymnals.

The vision of Constantine [who, when entering a battle saw the image of the cross in the sky with the words: “in this sign you shall conquer”] is most clear in stanza 2. God’s hosts can refer to “angels and archangels and . . . all the company of heaven” as well as to singers here on earth. 

Stanza 3 is rich with the language of the rebirth of Holy Baptism, including the seal of the crucified Christ on the brows of newborn soldiers, which is the sign of the holy cross upon both forehead and heart.

Stanza 4 requests the Lord Jesus, who was raised up on a tree just as Moses had lifted up the bronze serpent in the wilderness, to draw us in faith to Himself. Salvation is not only as narrow as the cross alone but also as wide as His arms open in welcome.

Stanza 5 presents the salvific worldview of the entire Scriptures, including Isaiah, Matthew, and Revelation, of God blessing Israel so that His chosen people would be a blessing to people of all tribes, nations, and languages for the sake of their salvation. The Christian Church, the new Israel of the Lord, proclaims salvation in Christ to all nations, to “everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself” (Acts 2:39).

Stanza 6 concludes the triumph son with praise to Christ alone for victory because of the cross, which is lifted high in thanksgiving and witness. 

The text provides a natural recessional hymn, sending a congregation off to enter the mission field of the world.1

God be with you as our Hymn of the Month inspires you to proclaim the love of Christ our crucified Savior to all people!

1. Paul J Cain, Lutheran Service Book: Companion to the Hymns, Vol. 1 (CPH: 2019), p. 1278-1279. 
Lift High the Cross, LSB 837

Let ev’ry race and ev’ry language tell
Of Him who saves our lives from death and hell. Refrain
So shall our song of triumph ever be:
Praise to the Crucified for victory! Refrain

Tune and text: © 1974 Hope Publishing Co.
Used by permission: LSB Hymn License no. 110001794
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Thomas Cowell