The early Anglo-Saxon poem, The Dream of the Rood, introduces us to an extraordinary evangelist - the Cross itself, or the "Rood" in Old English. This personification of the Cross, which was also an actual stone cross with biblical images carved into it on all sides, is revealed to the narrator in a dream, allowing the reader to meditate on this sacred symbol's emotions, thoughts, and experiences. The Rood speaks to the narrator, revealing the events surrounding the crucifixion of Christ from its vantage point, offering a distinctive perspective on the divine sacrifice.
The Rood speaks to the narrator, revealing the events surrounding the crucifixion of Christ from its vantage point, offering a distinctive perspective on the divine sacrifice.
A Bold Apologetic at the Crossroads
The poem's historical context adds another layer to its significance. Imagine a time when most people, Christian and pagan, were illiterate. That meant that conveying complex theological concepts required innovative methods. Enter the "Rood," a stone cross that was originally set up at a crossroads, strategically placed to catch the attention of passersby. This served as a visual and symbolic apologetic, inviting contemplation by Christians and conversion among pagans unfamiliar with Christian teachings.
The narrator, the Rood, vividly describes its transformation from a tree to an instrument of salvation:
“It was so long ago––I remember it still–– that I was felled from the forest’s edge, ripped up from my roots. Strong enemies seized me there, made me their spectacle, made me bear their criminals; they bore me on their shoulders and then set me on a hill; enemies enough fixed me fast. Then I saw the Lord of mankind hasten eagerly when he wanted to ascend upon me.”
These lines encapsulate the Rood's transformation from a humble tree to the sacred instrument upon which salvation unfolds. So, the narrative not only serves as a powerful depiction of the crucifixion but also as an invitation for reflection on the redemptive power inherent in Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice, as the Rood declares to the narrator:
“Now I bid you, my beloved hero, that you reveal this vision to men, tell them in words that it is the tree of glory on which almighty God suffered for mankind’s many sins and Adam’s ancient deeds. Death He tasted there, yet the Lord rose again with his great might to help mankind.”
The narrative not only serves as a powerful depiction of the crucifixion but also as an invitation for reflection on the redemptive power inherent in Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice
Faith and Embracing the Cross
Viewed through modern eyes, it’s clear that "The Dream of the Rood" transcends its historical origins, offering timeless insights into the historical persistence of Jesus’ crucifixion and why Christians embrace the cross as the focal point of their life. The poem encourages us to reflect on the significance of Christ's sacrifice, reminding us that even the humblest of objects can bear profound spiritual meaning when viewed from the perspective of faith, even for those seeking answers to their questions about the nature of God and salvation.
Today, as we navigate the challenges and struggles of life, we can draw inspiration and comfort from the Rood's unwavering commitment to its divine purpose:
"I trembled when he embraced me, but I dared not bow to the ground or fall to the earth’s corners––I had to stand fast. I was reared as a cross: I raised up the mighty King, the Lord of heaven; I dared not lie down.” The Rood is a symbol of hope, endurance, and redemption. Its message speaks to the power of the crucifixion and the enduring impact of Christ's sacrifice on the hearts and minds of believers. As the narrator says:
“Then I prayed to the tree with a happy heart, eagerly, there where I was alone with little company. My spirit longed to start on the journey forth; it has felt so much of longing. It is now my life’s hope that I might seek the tree of victory alone, more often than all men and honor it well. I wish for that with all my heart, and my hope of protection is fixed on the cross.”
An Ever-Relevant Allegory
And so, "The Dream of the Rood" is not merely a relic of the past; it is an ever-relevant allegory that calls us to ponder the mysteries of the cross and the Christian faith. The Rood's journey from a simple tree to a sacred cross serves as a powerful metaphor for our own cross-bearing, reminding us that even in the most unexpected and cruel circumstances, divine help awaits us:
“I look forward to the time when the cross of the Lord, on which I have looked while here on this earth, will fetch me from this loaned life, and bring me where there is great bliss, joy in heaven, where the Lord’s host is seated at the feast, with ceaseless bliss; and then set me where I may afterwards dwell in glory, have a share of joy fully with the saints. May the Lord be my friend, He who here on earth once suffered on the hanging-tree for human sin; He ransomed us and gave us life, a heavenly home.”
The Rood's journey from a simple tree to a sacred cross serves as a powerful metaphor for our own cross-bearing, reminding us that even in the most unexpected and cruel circumstances, divine help awaits us
And so, as we engage with this Old English gem, we find ourselves invited into a fantastic world where the “Dream of the Rood” becomes a timeless evangelist and teacher, vividly describing the profound lessons embedded in the crucifixion narrative and as a consequence, our lives. That is:
“He ransomed us and gave us life, a heavenly home. Hope was renewed with cheer and bliss for those who were burning there. The Son was successful in that journey, mighty and victorious, when he came with a multitude, a great host of souls, into God’s kingdom, the one Ruler almighty, the angels rejoicing and all the saints already in heaven dwelling in glory, when almighty God, their Ruler, returned to his rightful home.”