It’s been a busy week here, as Easter celebrations are completed, chocolate has been consumed, and we’ve enjoyed having the whole Mitton crew around for a long weekend. In this week’s blog, I want to continue our thoughts from last week, and examine the way that images can spark so many emotions for us. (In case you are a new visitor to the the blog and missed that great read… you can check it out here).
Specifically, I want us to focus on the image of the cross. The cross design has taken many forms: from the simple wooden “t” — to very ornate and beautiful beacons encrusted with jewels and gold. Jesus follower or not, most people are familiar with the image of a cross and it’s association to the crucifix, or depiction of Jesus’ death on Good Friday. It certainly sparks emotion for people… one way or the other! History has presented us with burning crosses of protest, crucifixes to ward off evil, and rows of white crosses amidst blood red poppies. It seems an appropriate image to look at since we are in the throwbacks of Easter and have seen some powerful images from the recent Notre Dame cathedral fire from April 15th. I watched, along with many others in the world, as the spire collapsed and the roof of this beautiful, old building was engulfed in flames. Many of my social media sights were dotted with the images of personal photos of Paris visits before the destruction, but one news image in particular caught my eye:
It was hailed as a “glimmer of hope” or a “miracle” that the cross within the Notre Dame Basilica still stood – despite the destruction all around it. And so I muse: what is so special about the cross? This simple shape is immediately associated with Christianity. Our graves are marked by it, our churches are adorned with it, we tattoo it on our bodies and wear it around out necks. But if we take a moment to really think about it, does it seem odd to hold such a device of torture in such revere? Seriously. Do we wear guillotines on our sleeves? Little electric chairs around our wrists? Skulls and crossbones? (okay, maybe that one gets tattooed a lot …) But you get the picture.
Crucifixion was reserved for the vilest of criminals. The hanging on a cross was proposed to be a political show of guilt, as a way to shame the criminals as they hung from stakes or crossbeams along public walkways. Displayed as spectacles for all good citizens to take note of. The victims essentially were asphyxiated as they hung, and their bodies were often left to be eaten by the buzzards and wild dogs as the ground was considered “too sacred” to allow criminals of such stature to desecrate it. The death itself is painful and slow. It is where we get our word “excruciating” from… not the prettiest of images to admire. It’s no wonder we fluff up Easter with yellow flowers and cute bunnies.
So, why a cross then? I’m going to propose that the cross has been allowed to stand as a symbol of Christianity, because our Creator embedded the ability to see past our sinful natures (and all it’s desires for pain and torture) into the spark of hope that occurred on Easter Sunday; when Jesus defeated that painful death, and rose again to give us the victory over our sin. The news stations were right when they declared the remaining cross in Notre Dame as a “glimmer of hope”. It has become a reverse icon… not promoting pain, but seen as the ability to move beyond destruction to the deliverance from the evils of this world — through Christ.
It’s important for us to see two sides to every story. One cannot see light unless you’ve been exposed to the darkness. One cannot experience true joy unless you’ve felt the pain of grief. Perhaps we embellish our symbols a tad too much. The golden cross left standing in Notre Dame didn’t do so by it’s own miraculous merit. Hunks of metal and clay statues do not save our sins. We must remember that the cross is not the saving grace itself, but the one who overcame this vilest form of death. It’s true. Images can spark such deep emotion within us. And symbolism is simply one way to elicit those responses. So, yes, feel free to wear that shiny gold and silver cross around your neck. Light it a top your church frame for all the world to see… but not as a magic icon, but as a conversation starter. As an image to add insight to a much, much deeper story of hope, compassion and love. The love of a Saviour for a dark and desolate world.