Then Jesus told his disciples, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me."
- Matthew 16:24
Have you ever noticed how many different types of crosses there are? If you have access to the internet you might google “types of crosses,” and I’m sure you would be surprised by how many ways the symbol of the cross has been depicted throughout history. The cross has become a symbol not only of the simple execution instrument on which Jesus died, but also of particular expressions of theology or doctrine or heritage or office. Because it is such a powerful symbol, Christians from the beginning of the Jesus movement used the cross to communicate to each other the depth and richness of a faith that forever will be tied to a grisly death. Early Christians, even during times of persecution, etched the symbol of the cross into rock near meeting places and hideaways to express their constancy of faith to those who gathered there. Different geographical areas depicted the cross in unique ways and passed this sacred symbol on to the next generation and to the future as a way of grounding their faith in the holy acts of God and of sharing the importance of God’s saving acts to those who would take up the faith. Some crosses are simple, relying on the story of the crucifixion alone to speak to those who view it, while others are very ornate or shaped/angled/modified in various ways to help to tell an aspect of the story the bearer of that cross deems worthwhile.
During the season of Lent our focus on the cross is intensified. We look at the mystery of the cross and of God’s gracious and merciful acts for us through Jesus and we wrestle with the implications of our sinfulness, God’s mercy and love and this amazing story which restores our broken relationship with God. The cross forces us to honestly and openly assess ourselves as humans separated from God by our selfishness, our sin. Regardless of how we imagine we stack up when compared to others, the cross communicates to us the simple truth that we fail God and break relationship with God constantly. It is, after all, ultimately human sinfulness which places Jesus on the cross. Human willfulness, the human desire to have our way prevail instead of God’s way, to claim power and authority for ourselves over against God’s call to loving relationship, ultimately causes the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus. We refuse to let God be God. We refuse to be God’s creatures, made in God’s image and called to live in service and love. Some first century authorities and people rejected the call to follow the way of God, and instead, got rid of the one who came to make God’s way known. We, too, are complicit in the cross when we refuse to follow God’s way and seek our own instead. Therefore, the cross is a reminder for us of how we fail, but also of a God who does not ever give up on us. God’s ultimate power, unleashed in weakness and humility and death, offers a love so deep and tried and true that we never can remove ourselves from it. The cross, therefore, is God’s claim on us that God will bear anything, even death, so that we might be bound to God, have our relationship restored, and find the fullness of life we can’t provide ourselves.
So, during this Lenten season, perhaps in our busyness we can find time to contemplate the cross, and to recall God’s acts of unfailing love which claim us now and always. We know the cross has been a symbol countless generations of Christians have revered because it reminded them of God’s love. Maybe we, too, can appreciate better the symbol itself and all that it means for us today. Then, inspired by the cross and by the God who gave himself for us, we, too, might be energized to take up our cross and follow this Jesus as we live in service to God and to others, secure in our understanding of God’s never-ending love for us, and the gift of life made known by this symbol cherished by followers of Christ.