In this post-modern era, we Christians are challenged to spread the gospel. We wonder how we can compete with all of the ideas and entertainments claiming the attention of the average person.
The essential good news of Christ, however, has proven itself to be very adaptable. It can be communicated in many different ways. What would we do without hymns, for example, songs based on biblical teaching that enable us to sing together, praise God and learn all at once?
"The Dream of the Rood" by Caedmon is not a hymn but a poem, thought to have been written in the eighth century. It is of great interest to historians of the English language for it is a complete poem written in one of the earliest forms of English. Christianity was powerful in the development of the English language, as Melvyn Bragg explains:
The messages and words of Christianity would feed English for more than a thousand years. It was English's first encounter with an invading force of thought and slowly, over centuries, overcoming long-held practices and superstitions, English let it in. The tightly bonded local language began to open up.
Bragg, Melvyn, The Adventure of English: the Biography of a Language, (London: Hodder & Stoughton) pp.9-10.
It is all the more fascinating to consider the development of language when we remember that in the Middle Ages few could read and write. The gospel would have to be spread largely by word of mouth.
A rood is a cross. "The Dream of the Rood" is a work of Caedmon's imagination. The poem is narrated by a man who sees a wondrous-looking tree, decorated with gold and gems. The tree then begins to speak to him, explaining how the tree had been cut down and made into the cross upon which Christ had died. (For a full modern-English translation of the poem, see: http://faculty.uca.edu/jona/texts/rood.htm.) This powerful and imaginative premise was bound to catch the interest of our eighth-century ancestors, huddled around the campfire at night, craving to hear a good story!
The poem proves itself to be more than a mere story, however, when it captures the essential meaning of Jesus dying for our sins:
Now I command you, loved man of mine, that you this seeing tell unto men; discover with words that it is glory's beam which Almighty God suffered upon for all mankind's manifold sins and for the ancient ill-deeds of Adam. Death he tasted there, yet God rose again by his great might, a help unto men.
(Lines 95-102, see above, trans. Jonathan A. Glenn, Univ. of Central Arkansas).
The essential idea is repeated in lines 144-146: "May he be friend to me who here on earth earlier died on that gallows-tree for mankind's sins." This core idea of Christianity-the idea that still escapes so many people including nominal Christians-is therefore communicated very effectively by this poem.
How blessed we are, however, to have the Bible in its glorious entirety at our fingertips. How blessed we are to be able to read the full and glorious description of Jesus in, for example, Colossians 1:15-20 (ESV):
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
"Making peace by the blood of his cross"-may we gratefully contemplate these words.
In faith and fellowship,
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