I received a message from a friend of mine who hopes to do a Theology Degree and someday become a Vicar. It turns out that at the moment they are rather interested in the ways that churches use symbolism. As such, they have been asking a variety of people a whole bunch of questions about what they think different things in church symbolise, such as the font, the altar, Baptism and Eucharist, stained glass windows and several others. I haven’t yet answered all of them – in fact, I’ve only answered three. Out of seventeen. However, I sent what I have done to her and she seemed to like what I said and so I thought I would share one of them here. I may post others as and when I’ve done them.
Anyway, here’s the first question.
What do you believe the Cross symbolises?
The cross, with its vertical and horizontal beams, stands as that axis – that pivot – upon which all reality stands, hangs and is defined by. In a very real sense, there is no other moment so ‘real’ as when the weight of death and sin in its entirety hurled itself against the Son of the living God; that moment when it eagerly clutched at that final, loud sigh escaping Jesus’ lips as he gave up his spirit and, for our sakes, let go of life. In the storm that bore witness to this death, the cacophony of thunder and howling winds seemed to gleefully declare a victory for the darkness. Yet that cross which we see in our churches stands empty. There is no body adorning this homage to death because this most real of moments in history is not as finished and final as death would like to propose that it should be. The bloodied corpse was speared and the cross lowered. The nails were wrenched out of shattered heels and wrists, and the body wrapped in cloths and placed in a tomb – walled in by a boulder. The corpse was there in a darkness so deep that solitary would be too kind a word for it. Yet it is precisely here in this place that the Holy Spirit of the Lord reached out in love to brush away the shadows of sin and to pour into Jesus life. It was this corpse which gasped and took another breath beyond the sleep of death. It was this corpse’s flesh which was knit back together and whose heart began to beat the eternal rhythm of love to which life dances. It is this man and no other who died for us for the forgiveness of our sins, and it is this man who lives for us, and lives still, so that we might be called Friends of God and have the hope of eternal life with him. It is because this man, Jesus of Nazareth, lives that our crosses are bare – there was death, and we remember it; but there IS life, and we should remember that even more.