The Meaning of the Cross
The other day as I was hiking, suddenly over on a particularly steep incline I came upon a beautiful spot, which had been cleared out, adjacent to the trail. The focal point of the clearing was a cross in front of the backdrop of the lake, which had been hidden behind trees, brush, and foliage up to that point.
As the sun shone brightly in this spot, offering a breathtaking view of the shimmering water below, I paused in awe of the beauty of all that was around me. For me, the cross, the water, and the signs of new life in creation, from the turtles sunning on logs below to the budding of the bluebells beside me, were resurrection reminders. After a few moments of pause, pondering, and prayer, I set back on the trail with a renewed sense of calm and joy.
Within minutes I overheard a young voice asking the adult they were with a question which startled me. After an audible gasp, the young voice asked, “Is that where someone died?” to which the adult simply responded, “I don’t think so.” My mind racing with the horror that this young one only imagined seeing a cross in unexpected places such as this to mark where someone had tragically lost their lives.
This one saw it as the makeshift cross which suddenly appears on the side of a highway where someone died in a car accident or a makeshift cross in the middle of a street corner where someone had died as the result of a gunshot wound. I also thought of displays of rows of small white crosses to mark the lives which were lost in a war or more recently to a mysterious virus. “How horrible,” I thought that this young one only associated a cross with the tragedy of the loss of life. “How horrible,” I thought that this young one had probably borne witness to devastation, destruction, and death.
Then I caught myself. I caught the ridiculousness of my thinking. Why is it that when I see a cross, I immediately move to the end of the story? I move to the hope, the joy, the new life it represents. Yes, while we are a people of the resurrection, there is also great value in understanding the complexity and the depth of the rest of the story.
I believe one of the reasons Jesus chose not to bypass the consequences of other’s decisions, small-minded thinking, and the inability of people to accept the radical nature of love and forgiveness was because he knew there was not an easy path to lasting transformation. If Jesus had run away, escaping those who were so threatened by his power, and had not faced his enemies who perhaps felt such relief when they heard he had died upon the cross, we would not fully understand God’s full power. God’s power transcends the finite powers of this world which can seek to dismiss, destroy, and debunk the mysterious Divine force, which is more powerful than the eye can see and the mind can imagine.
The cross reflects the messiness, the cruelty, the unfairness of this world and balances it with the clarity, kindness, and grace-filled equality of God’s realm. Within the cross is the complexity of life, especially a life of faith, which coexists. So, while that spot on the trail where a cross was erected does not mark the spot where someone died, the core of our faith is rooted in the acknowledgment that death is an inescapable reality of human existence. Jesus chose to reveal the parallel Divine reality of eternal life through this inescapable human reality. This Divine reality of eternal life reminds us that death and destruction do not have the last word. So, while there are moments when we stumble upon something which causes us to question, “Did someone or something die here?” might we, in the next breath, ask ourselves, “But who and what will rise at this moment?” May we turn to the hope of the resurrected Christ.
Blessings, Rev. Shana Johnson, ISC Conference Minister