From the March/April 2013 Touchstone:


 

smallcover 26 02 Anthony Esolen on the Hymn The Story of the Cross by Edward MonroAt the Cross of Jesus

At the end of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the good Gawain approaches the Green Chapel, where he is certain he must die. It’s New Year’s Day, the snow lies deep, and a grindstone hums nearby. As far as Sir Gawain knows, it’s sharpening the ax that will shear off his head. “I’ll be with you right away,” calls the demonic Green Knight from behind the chapel. That chapel is a place of foreboding. There is no cross.

I’ve been to a chapel without a cross. It was converted from an old factory. The windowless inner “worship room” boasted electronic equipment for music and videos, but no cross. I felt, there, a little like Gawain. There’s something wrong, in the sense of being crooked, bent, about a chapel without a cross. It cannot lead to good.

The Question of Christianity

Quite different is the wisdom of a remarkable five-part hymn by one Edward Monro: “The Story of the Cross”(1864). The first part is The Question:

See Him in raiment rent,
With His blood dyed:
Women walk sorrowing
By His side.

Heavy that Cross to Him,
Weary the weight:
One who will help Him stands
At the gate.

Multitudes hurrying
Pass on the road:
Simon is sharing with
Him the load.

Who is this travelling
With the curst tree—
This weary prisoner—
Who is He?

The terse meter provides, at the end of each stanza, a moment of extraordinary pathos. For the last line is “missing” its first syllable. It begins on a strong beat, set apart from the meter of the rest of the stanza. The women walk in sorrow, where? By His side. Who is this weary prisoner? Who is He? That is the question of Christianity, right there.