‘The message about the cross doesn’t make any sense to lost people. But for those who are being saved, it is God’s power at work.’
1 Corinthians 1: 18
As we move our way through Lent and towards Easter the cross is a familiar sight and is seen as the most important and best-known symbol of Christianity. I have been doing a course about symbolism and creativity and it has been interesting to learn that lots of symbols we associate with a certain group were originally universal symbols that had very different meanings to what they do today. For example, the swastika, which we associate with Nazism, is actually an ancient symbol of spirituality and good luck.
Likewise, you may not be aware, but the cross has its origins thousands of years before Jesus. It is believed to have been around from the prehistoric period and represented the four elements, earth, air, water and fire. In the bronze age it is thought to have had some religious meaning relating to consecration, particularly in relation to burial. But also, in India it is a symbol of resignation, in Egypt it was a symbol of life and it can even be seen as a symbol of sexual union.
So how did this become the symbol of Christianity?
That’s obvious I hear you all say. It’s because Jesus died on a cross.
But there is some disagreement amongst scholars as to what the shape of the instrument of torture used in crucifixion really was. Some suggest it would have been a T shape and others just a single stake.
So where does this leave us?
Well maybe the most important thing is to ask ourselves what is the purpose of the cross for us? What is its meaning?
Hopefully we do not want to show the world a symbol of abuse and torture, even if part of Christianity is about recognising the horrific injustices in our world today and seeking to address them. Plus, that idea of embracing the four elements is a good reminder of part of our purpose as stewards of creation: to care for the earth. Also, that idea that the intersection of the two lines in the cross represents some form of union, maybe not so much sexual as spiritual. That it represents God and humankind becoming one in a way that does lead to new life in us and others.
May we not be at cross-purposes with the cross, the world or each other, but welcome the cross with all its symbolism and be creative.
May you take up your cross and follow its many purposes.