In these weeks leading up to Easter, we will pause each Sunday to ponder the cross of Christ and what it means. Each Sunday a different symbolic version of the cross will be displayed in front of us, prompting us to reflect on various aspects of our Savior and what he did for us at Calvary.
The cross has long been a symbol of Christianity, with Christians using it as a reminder of their Lord and his sufferings for them. As the centuries have passed, we find today that even people without any particularly close relationship with Jesus Christ find the cross an attractive symbol. Some observers have called it the most universal symbol in the world. And so from liturgy to jewelry, from architecture to knick-knacks, the cross as a symbol has had a long and varied history. And the specific designs and representations of the cross through the years have also been many. In the weeks to come we will see a few of these representations.
The cross in front of us today is the Latin cross. It is the simplest of the many symbolic crosses handed down to us in the history of the Christian church. Its simplicity could remind us of the starkness and bleakness of the original cross; its emptiness reminds us of the resurrection of our Lord - that his work on the cross is finished and complete.
But the simplicity of this cross is perhaps also its weakness as a symbol. We find this cross everywhere in America - perched on top of impressive church buildings; hanging from fine gold necklaces; engraved on family Bibles; placarded on nifty bumper stickers. But this cultural context, riding on 2000 years of church history and tradition, has largely sanitized and domesticated the cross as a symbol. The cross has become clean and tidy.
The Roman cross, such as Jesus was crucified on, was in instrument of capital punishment reserved for the lowest of criminals. It conjured up thoughts of low-life, torture, and disgrace; and feelings of revulsion, disgust, and rejection. Today we glory in the cross, as did the Apostle Paul, and rightly so. But the early Christians' glorying in the cross sounded to the world something like glorying in the electric chair, in the gallows, or in the lethal injection needle. That the central event of human history had to do with a Roman cross was virtually unthinkable.
Today the symbol is much tamer. But the reality behind it - the Son of God dying a disgraceful and violent death as the lowest of criminals - still strikes people as odd or repulsive. But to us who know ourselves and our Lord, it is the wisdom and power of God. As Paul the Apostle wrote:
22Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength. (1 Cor. 1:22-25 NIV)
In the cross we see God's wisdom and power. There the justice and love of God are displayed. God loved sinners so much that he gave his Son to die; Jesus loved sinners so much that he willingly yielded to the cross. And God's opposition to sin was so strong, his holiness so glorious, that nothing less than the death of his Son would satisfy justice.
Justice vindicated; love displayed; sinners set free - and all this through a bloody Roman pole and crossbar. Christ crucified, the wisdom and power of God.
Let us pray:
We praise you, Lord Jesus, for enduring the stark bleakness of the cross. We thank you for enduring its horror and humiliation. We praise you, O God, for your justice and love, your wisdom and power, displayed in the cross.
In these days of Lent, and beyond, cause us to remember the cross and what it symbolizes. Keep us from thinking of it too tamely. Let us live close to it.
Next reading: The Four Corners of the Cross