As we head into Lent, our Sunday school class is studying Christian symbolism. One of the first symbols that we studied was the Cross which is actually 400 different symbols.
In my mind, the cross has always been a comfort. Perhaps this was because I was raised by women who looked out for me both physically and spiritually. They wore crosses and reminded me that God was always there for me, watching out for me, guiding me and listening to me.
I was surprised to learn that the Cross wasn’t used by Christians until the fourth century when crucifixion was outlawed and Christianity was legalized. Until then, they cross, my cross, was a symbol of torture and execution. Only the very worst criminals were crucified. It was a symbol of shame. And Christ, the Messiah, the Redeemer, had died on a cross.
Nailed up like a murderer.
Imagine what that had to feel like for His followers. The shame and horror of seeing him hung up there, suffering and dying. The self-recriminations – what could I have done differently? Does this mean that all he preached, all that I’ve believed and hoped was . . . wrong?
The cross didn’t symbolize anything good until much, much later.
As we enter Lent, I’ve been thinking about what the cross means in the US today. Is it the signing of a loving Christ, drawing in those in need? Calling the little children to him? Because that’s what it means to me. As I pray, I can look at the cross and feel myself relax. This is my refuge. My source of strength.
But is that how it feels to the transgender teen who is agonizing over what bathroom to use in school? Does it mean hope to refugees from war-torn countries? Those who are just trying to reunite with brothers and sisters, children and spouses?
To many of these people it means judgement and recrimination. It means despair and sparks fear.
Two thousand years and we’re right back where we started, but it isn’t where we have to be. The meaning of this powerful symbol has changed in the past. It can change again in the future. It can truly become the Cross of Christ, drawing in those in need, calling to the children.