Monday, November 06, 2006

Wearing of a cross?

My mom and her sister, my aunt (AJ), were talking yesterday. Apparently AJ’s minister has told his congregation that wearing a cross is inappropriate. He told them that he was even given the gift of a cross-shaped lapel pin, but he refuses to wear it. “Why would I want to wear an electric chair?”

I must admit that I was surprised by that statement. I own several crosses and wear them periodically. I carry one around with me most days. I sit in a church on Sundays with a cross prominently displayed on the wall. Never when I look at or touch any of those symbols do I think of an electric chair. Clicking around on the internet this morning, though, I did find that same electric chair/torture devise reasoning expressed on a few sites.

As a Christian, I am certainly aware that the cross was a means of torture and death. Jesus carried a heavy, horrible wooden cross up a hill, he was nailed to it, and he hung from it until he died. I won’t try to “clean it up” or make it less than it is. It is “electric chair” stuff.

If that was all that happened – if that was the end of the story – then I wouldn’t own or wear a single one. I would advocate removing them from our sanctuaries and steeples. We all know, however, that love conquered even that horrendous event. Christ arose from death – he transformed death for himself and for all of us. If he can do that – if he can strike a final blow against death, then changing the meaning of two crossed pieces of wood is nothing. It is no longer an instrument of torture. The cross is now a symbol of faith – the faith that I (and you) have in eternal life, unending love, and resurrection promises. It is a somber reminder of whose we are.

Why do I wear a cross? I am a fiddler – not a violin player, but a person who “fiddles” with things. If I’m holding a pen, I’ll click it. I twirl my wedding rings. I’ll open and close the clasp on earrings. And if I’m wearing a cross, I touch it. I feel it. When I do, I am reminded why I wear it and what it symbolizes. There are days when I really need to be reminded and am grateful for that small pieces of metal on its chain.

Do I wear it as an evangelical tool? No. I doubt that anyone will be converted to Christianity by seeing my jewelry. Wearing that cross, though, presents an extra challenge. If I’m wearing it, I had better make sure that my actions live up to the line from the song “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” If I am blatantly saying, by what I wear, that I am a Christian, then I had better make sure my actions speak just as loudly as my jewelry. Maybe that is a good reason to wear a cross.

And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:27)

Don’t get me wrong – I know Jesus was not talking in this passage about the wearing of a cross. I do believe, though, as we read the passage today, one of the messages that it can give to us is that we are to pick up our faith – our belief in Jesus as the Messiah, our acceptance of the abundant gifts of grace that we have been given, and our commitment to be followers of God – and carry it. A cross is no longer an “electric chair” – it has been transformed into the symbol of that faith. Picking up a literal cross can and should be a reminder that we are to pick up the glorious cross of our faith and carry it with us wherever we go.

When the cross means that – when it symbolizes that faith – then it is no longer a heavy, horrible device of torture. It is freedom. It is a reminder that God is always with us. It is a continual touchstone for us to tell us that we are loved by God so much that he sent us his son, revealed himself to us, and has never left us to carry our burdens alone.

5 Comments:

Anonymous s the husband said...

BEAUTIFUL. Let's figure out how to get this powerful image/message to AJ's closed minded, closed eyed, in-the-dark minister.

11:52 AM  
Anonymous Jeff the Methodist said...

The cross is also a reminder to me of the lenghts to which God went so that we would "get it."

I think that minister's beef is lame. If he doesn't want to wear one, fine, but what's his problem?

1:43 PM  
Blogger Carol said...

Wonderful post...I realize, as you stated, that remembering all that the cross represents includes a time of suffering and pain for our Lord and Savior, however, the freedom that was provided to us by Jesus' submission to endure all of that means so much. If a cross around our necks, on our lapel or in our pockets reminds us of that sacrifice...it's the least we can do out of our gratitude to Jesus.

5:56 PM  
Blogger Linda said...

Great post! Sadly, someone I know quite well refused the gift of a cross for Christmas because she said "It reminds me of Catholics."

This was a topic we discussed a little bit in the Youth Sunday School Class. I mentioned it to the students because this reference to wearing a method of execution was brought out in one of the video segments in the Alpha Class we had at church. If I remember the video correctly, the question was raised by non-Christians who were terribly preplexed about those of us who treasured what the cross represents to the Christian faith.

The consensus in our class was that too many people were wearing the cross - simply to make a fashion statement (meaning Hollywood and/or music icons) - totally oblivious to its meaning for so many of us.

Sounds like the minister fell asleep during the Alpha video, or didn't listen to hear "the rest of the story." It saddens me that he feels the need to address this issue at all --- however, it seems that more and more churches are choosing not to have the symbol of the cross visible anywhere in their sanctuaries. I shudder to think where I would be without the harsh realtiy of the cross of Good Friday.

7:04 PM  
Blogger Kim said...

I ran across this today in Yancey's book and for some reason I think it applies --> "The first Christians staked everything on the Resurrection, so much so that the apostle Paul told the Corinthians, "And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith."

The cross -- a symbol of torture, and a reminder of (to borrow JtM's phrase) the great lengths to which God went so that we would "get it," is transformed by the resurrection. Without it -- without Christ being raised -- the cross is nothing but what it used to be. It and we are transformed.

I also agree with Linda's youth class, that a cross is worn at times with no regard to the symbolism it has for us. That meaning is rich and multilayered -- sacrifice and resurrection. Death and life. Pain and love.

But no longer means of execution. The resurrection has freed it from that, as it has freed us from death.

I'll wear that any day -- just to remember.

8:04 PM  

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