The cross… I used to be ok with the cross. I’m not sure when it happened, but sometime in the middle of my ministry someone pointed out that the cross was an instrument of torture and death. Like I didn’t already know that, right? But for some reason it hit me differently, and I started to think deeper… why on earth would I elevate that symbol? Why glorify the cross? Why render it an impotent symbol by putting it in gold, making it fancy, or stylized? Why brush over its original use by taking Jesus off of it and making the empty cross a symbol of resurrection, of joy… as if the blood and the suffering never happened there?
Even worse than all that, though, was that the cross was inexplicably tied to the traditional Christian theology that insisted that God needed, demanded even, a perfect human sacrifice to make up for the sins of humanity, and especially the sins of a woman named Eve. I’ve never been able to wrap my head around that thinking. It is archaic and no different that sacrificing animals on altars, or virgins in volcanoes.
Yet, crosses are so commonplace that they are hard to escape – in homes, around people’s necks, I’ve used them for confirmation gifts, and preached in front them for 14 years. But, when we began Sacred Journeys, I was done. We needed a different symbol… one of life, of growth and change, of hope and newness. And so our Sacred Journeys’ tree was developed.
I know some of you have commented that you miss the cross up front. And, I know some of you miss the traditional cross hymns. Personally, I’ll admit that I loved belting out “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” and “Lift High the Cross” on Easter morning, but I can’t do it anymore. As I read the words of the cross, they are full of a theology that I can’t abide by. We are not washed and cleansed in the blood of Jesus. I will not glorify the cross as a place where humanity had to be redeemed. His death was not a cosmic battle between the forces of God and Satan. He did not conquer mortality (again caused by Eve) so we could all live. How can I sing things like, “what wondrous love is this that caused the lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for my soul”?
Believe it or not, I actually feel that as a loss, mostly because there are few songs to replace them.
Anyway, because one of you has nudged me about the cross a few times, I’ve mulled it over in my head over and over, trying to determine if there was a way I could reconcile my feelings about the cross, transform them, re-frame them. And I think the answer is a qualified yes.
You see, as I did my research, I found that the symbol of the cross is a much more ancient symbol than Christianity. It has been used to symbolize the division of the world into four basic elements: earth, water, air and fire. And, it has been used to symbolize the intersection of the divine (vertical axis) and the world (horizontal axis).
It is this last definition that resonates with me. The cross re-framed becomes the intersection of the light and love of divinity, and the imperfect, ego-driven, materialistic, human world. I can work with that.
Theologian and author, Cynthia Bourgeault, speaks of the union of the vertical and horizontal axes as the point of enlightenment. This is the coming together of the finite and the infinite within oneself. Jesus had this, though most didn’t recognize it until the event of the cross and his subsequent appearances (whether literal or spiritual or metaphorical is up to you).
When the earthly and sacred come together our perception shifts, we live in this world with deeper understanding, with infinite compassion, with wisdom. It is any moment – no matter how ordinary, or how extraordinary – when we sense and feel the Presence of Something More. It is the moment of transformation when the everyday becomes holy, when pain is infused with hope, when light enters darkness, when we are not an individual fighting the universe, but one with the universe.
This is the cross… where the vertical axis and the horizontal axis meet… where the disciples meet Jesus… where the Divine intersects our realities…. where all things are seen in a new way… this is Easter.