We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you:
Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.
Crosses are everywhere. I have two that I wear when celebrating Holy Eucharist. Somewhere along the way people started giving me crosses as gifts, and now my office walls are filled with crosses of every sort. Members of the DOK pledge to wear a cross every day. There's a cross at the end of my prayer beads. And crosses have become a sort of fashion statement, worn by both men and women who most likely have no religious affiliation or knowledge.
But the cross is more than a pretty piece of jewelry or lovely piece of artwork, no matter how beautiful it may appear. The cross is a powerful symbol of our faith. In fact, it may be the most important symbol of our faith.
We must never forget that the cross was in instrument of terror, power, and pain inflicted upon a conquered people by the victorious Roman army. The Pax Romana, the Roman Peace, was a period from 27 BCE to 180 CE which reflected a period of relative stability and peace throughout the Roman Empire. One of the things that held that peace in place was the swift actions of the army to stamp out any threat to the empire – this included state sponsored terrorism in the act of crucifixion.
Crucifixion is a brutal, painful way to die. Various aspects of crucifixion include breathing difficulties, fluid in the lungs (which can lead to drowning), heart arrhythmia and a burst heart, loss of blood and drops in blood pressure, hypoglycemic shock, as well as the overall bodily shock of being beaten beforehand and coping with the pain of having nails driven through hands and feet. Add to that the very public nature of the event and this was not a good way to die.
And yet the cross has become the universal symbol of Christianity. It was on the cross that Jesus died for our sins; and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world. It was at the cross that Jesus said, “I'll take the weight of this sinful world upon me so that you don't have to.” It was on the cross that Jesus stretched out his arms of love so that everyone might come within the reach of his saving embrace. It was on the cross that Jesus redeemed the world.
The cross was a symbol of the ghastly practice of state sponsored terror in order to keep the masses of conquered people in line. But we don't dwell on that aspect of the cross. We shouldn't dwell on that aspect of the cross. The crosses we wear are empty. The cross at the front of the church is empty. They are empty because we don't dwell on the crucifixion, we dwell on the fact that Jesus defeated death. It was Jesus who was victorious, not the cross. There's a reason we sing, “The cross stands empty to the sky” on Easter.
On this day when we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Cross, take some time and reflect on this vitally important symbol of our faith. If you aren't sure where to begin, begin by asking yourself this question:
What does the cross mean to me?