Just yesterday, I was having dinner with some friends. One of them asked me if the WTC grounds were private or public property. I asked why she wanted to know. As part of the 9/11 Memorial in the footprints of the Twin Towers, they want to place the cross that was formed from I-beams found in the wreckage. She remarked that she hoped it would happen because she wanted the Muslims to see the cross every time they went to pray at the mosque. Meaning…it would be a slap in the face of those people who would dare exercise their rights in a pluralistic society. And what better way to do this than to use the central symbol of Christianity…that’ll show em. I had to fight back my frustration with that comment. This is not a statement of political or personal opinions, but rather disappointment with the attitude towards non-Christians.
Ah, the Cross of Calvary. The place where Jesus suffered, bled, and died for us that we might be saved and know God. Such a beautiful yet scandalous place, that a King should die for me. But in our foolish humanity, we’ve once again taken it upon ourselves to rule over others as judge and executioner, deeming them unfit for the same grace, patience, and mercy we ourselves have received. The Cross, a symbol of God’s unconditional, unyielding, unending love has been so twisted to serve man’s purposes.
Constantine the Great, often thought of us a hero in Church history, helped to propagate this notion that the Cross could be used to further our cause…not His cause. I’ll try to be fair, Constantine did end Diocletian’s persecution against the Church. He opened doors for the Gospel to be preached and Christianity to be legalized. And by all means let’s look at the wonderful history for the next 1700 years. I will side step questions about the authenticity of Constantine’s conversion. But marching into battle after seeing the vision of a cross in the sky and receiving the “divine” message “in hoc signe vinces” or with this symbol you will conquer…
This was a turning point for the Church. No longer the persecuted minority. Now, they were in control. It was a shift in policy. Christ was no longer the Lamb slain by His enemies but the Lion slaying His enemies. It became a conquering, militant Jesus versus a compassionate loving Savior. It forgot the notion that you can’t gain a Crown without first enduring the Cross. Muslims, Jews, Protestants, Catholics, suffered violently under the banner of the “new” Cross.
Fast forward. The Ku Klux Klan? Burning the Cross to terrorize their victims, and present themselves as patriotic, upstanding Christians who are trying to preserve American ideals…at the expense of any non-whites.
The Nazi movement gained momentum in a defeated and disillusioned Germany. Aryan symbol or not, the swastika came to be known as the twisted Cross. Once again “Christians” used the Cross against inferior races of people, particularly against the Jews, aka killers of Christ.
And the list goes on and on of the misrepresentations of the way of the Cross: slavery, America’s Manifest Destiny, the civilizing and Christianizing of Native Americans…while stealing their land and slaughtering them. Hatred, racism, and discrimination justified by a 5,000 year old curse because of a drunk old man and his grandson.
All this negated by a simple lesson in the Garden of Gethsemane. As Jesus was being arrested by the temple guard, Simon Peter picks up a sword and cuts off the ear of the priest’s servant. Jesus intervenes, heals the boy’s ear and rebukes Peter. First off, He tried to save Jesus from going to the Cross. I’m glad he wasn’t successful. Secondly, he tells him that those who live by the sword die by the sword. Jesus would later illustrate that those who die by the Cross live by the Cross. The Cross: a place of suffering which was necessary to win us back. But also to symbolize sacrifice, surrender, humility, love, mercy, patience, reconciliation, healing, servanthood, and forgiveness.
I remember 2 years ago, I was confronted by an older gentleman in our congregation who was asking if the venue for our Sunday worship service was still called a sanctuary. I assured that it was still such a place although we called it the Auditorium. He began to turn red and raise his voice exclaiming 1) We were trying to be politically correct with everything 2) Why did we take down the cross? 3) He didn’t see Jesus in that worship service. I tried to defuse the situation and explain to him that between the message on Jesus the Servant, worship songs exalting Christ, and receiving communion that it truly was centered on Jesus. He scoffed and stomped off. I really wanted to say to him that I didn’t see Jesus in his attitude. Oh well, missed opportunity 🙂 Less than 30 minutes later, I ran into 2 of our small group leaders. One asking me if it was all right for her small group to operate outside of their weekly meeting to serve in the community, like at the Salvation Army or a homeless shelter. The other one, carrying around an oxygen tank on a cart told me she wanted to lead a small group at her nursing home. She is in her late 70’s and dying of cancer. Yet, despite her weakened condition, wanted to tell others, who were on the verge of eternity, about Christ and how much He loved them.
I wanted to find that gentleman and tell him…hey, I’ve just seen Jesus.
It came not in two pieces of wood hanging on the wall, but an attitude and lifestyle in people’s hearts.