Taking the cross for granted

Do you wear a cross?

I’ve worn a number of them in my life.  In college, as a new Christian, I wore a somewhat large copper cross.  Later, I would buy smaller, more subtle ones made of silver, pewter, or even clear Lucite.  Poke around: you can find crosses made from steel, titanium, wood, and of course gold (with or without diamonds).

These days, I tend to only wear one when performing weddings or funerals.  Part of the reason is that crosses have become ubiquitous: you might see anyone wearing a cross, at any time, in any place.  A person with a cross might smile and speak to you warmly about Jesus, or rail at you at a street corner for voting the wrong direction, or maybe even mug you for your wallet.

The cross has come to mean just about anything people want it to mean.  And I imagine that Paul’s contemporaries–indeed, Paul himself–would have found all this difficult to understand.

To begin with, most people would have found the idea of embracing the cross as a personal symbol repulsive.  It was, after all, an instrument of state-sponsored torture.  By contrast, “modern” forms of execution were meant to bring death more quickly and–in theory, at least–humanely.  Yet no one made pendants of tiny golden guillotines.  Tiffany’s doesn’t make a diamond-studded replica of an electric chair.  Surely anybody who did would be labeled a sick, clueless clod.

So maybe we can understand, just a little, why both Jews and Greeks alike found the message to be madness.

Indeed, as we saw in the last post, the idea of a crucified Messiah would have been scandalous to the Jews (1 Cor 1:23), for it meant believing that God’s anointed one was also accursed (Deut 21:23).  They didn’t understand that the Messiah bore the curse of our sin on the cross, not his own (Gal 3:13).

That brings us back to the question of symbolic meanings.  We sport crosses not only around our necks, but on t-shirts, bumper stickers, and Bible covers.  What does it all mean?  What message are we trying to send?

  • I just like crosses.  It’s a fashion statement, nothing more.
  • I like to hang out with churchy-type people, and that’s what they do, so look! I’m a member of the club.
  • I’m no Jesus freak, but think of myself as being a good, religious, or spiritual person in my own way.
  • I am a Jesus freak, so don’t mess with me.

These are not, of course, the only possibilities.  But honestly, do any of those fit, even a little?  I confess some affinity to at least two (you get to guess which ones).  But I would hope for something else:

What does the cross mean to me?  It means that I’m the one who deserved the curse, but someone else carried it in my stead.  It means that I serve a God who turned my world upside-down by showing me what real power is–the power of  sacrificial love.  And if you see me wearing a cross, I want you to know that my desire is to be more like the humble servant it represents.  Maybe that sounds weak and foolish, but that’s just an illusion.  This is the life to which God has called me, and I’m giving you permission to hold me to it.

It’s easy to take the cross for granted.  It’s easier to say that it was necessary for Jesus to die for sinful humanity than to say that it was necessary for him to die for me.

But hopefully, when we use the cross as a symbol, it’s a public and personal acknowledgment of both.