Monday, March 26, 2007

Why the cross?

We come into a worship setting with symbols of great suffering. The cross alone is one such item. But how often do we, followers of Jesus the Christ, really realize the symbol before us? We treat it as a magic talisman at times, or simple ornamentation at others. We wear the cross as jewelry, not thinking of the meaning behind it. Why the cross? Why this instrument of torture and suffering?

The Roman Empire was very adept at finding ways to inflict pain and suffering to achieve it's aims and goals. For while they brought with them the benefits of "modern" living, and the Pax Romano, they were still ruthless with those that might oppose them. The whip used by them was called a flagellum, made up of strips of leather that had pieces of metal attached at various intervals. When struck with this instrument of torture it would literally remove strips of skin from the body, and often expose bone. Tradition says that the Christ received 39 lashes, but this was according to Rabbinical Law, not Roman. The Romans had no limit imposed, and a person could be beaten to death with a flagellum. This didn't occur very often though, as the "criminal" being punished still had to stand trial and be able to be crucified.

Crucifixion. Can anyone think of a more slow and lingering death than this? Struggling to force oneself up into a position where they might be able to take another breath. Crucifixion caused death by slow, painful asphyxiation. The actual nailing of the person (while being quite painful) could be survived but being forced to hang by these nails, supporting your body weight with them, was something the body was never designed to do. So as the diaphragm was slowly restricted, and the lungs were unable to totally exhale the carbon monoxide and inhale a full breath, the body would slowly start to die from a lack of oxygen. The process would take days, and often weeks, to complete. And the corpse would be left hanging after death as a warning to others about breaking the law of Rome.

So not just one painful path, but two were walked by the Savior. Which brings us back to the question: Why the cross? Why have we, His followers, chosen this symbol? The early church used the fish as a way of identifying each other. But over the centuries this direct reference to Jesus saying, "I will make you fishers of men," has fallen by the wayside. And the church looks at this emblem of pain and suffering without much thought as to the actual use of the cross. Why, as Christians, do we not use the empty tomb as our symbol? Much more hopeful, more joyful, more true to the meaning of Jesus' resurrection. But we don't do this. And I think we suffer our current identification with the secular world because of it.

When was the last time you heard a denominational church pastor, especially a Methodist pastor, proclaim the good news of Jesus resurrection outside of the Easter season? And more importantly, when have you heard the Bishops of the Annual Conferences proclaim this message to the world, rather than a political one? It is time for the church to again rise up, proclaim revival, and take the gospel message into the world once more.

No matter what the leadership may say.