“And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men to myself.” Words of Jesus, John 12:32
(The COVID-19 pandemic is making the news grim. Like a ghost ship in the night, Holy Week is passing largely unnoticed. Easter celebrations will be muted due to governmental lock-down orders. Notwithstanding the horrific events of the day, one thing remains unshaken: Our faith. Though it may appear to the contrary, yet God is still in control. I pray that our Christian faith will remain a sure anchor of our souls during this time of unprecedented turmoil.)
This is Holy Week in the Christian world. Through all the passion and pageantry, the cross takes center stage. But for most of the other 364 days, it stands naked and alone, suspended on pedestals in public and ecclesiastical venues, quietly minding its own business and waiting for opportunities to share its secrets.
The cross is a silent Sentinel with an observant eye, a kindly and ever-patient Doorman-in-waiting. From its lofty height it gazes down in mute amazement at the incessant motions of mankind, a beleaguered humanity mired in the busyness of living. It waits, waits for hungry souls to approach, waits to open the doors of heaven to anyone who will simply stop long enough and ask to be admitted.
Holy Week closes in on Friday and the mood of the cross turns dark and ugly. It becomes a visceral portent of the pending crucifixion of Jesus. It culminates on Resurrection Sunday when the cross is transformed from a cruel instrument of death to a vibrant symbol of life. Crowds gather around crosses adorned with brilliant Spring flowers upon the lawns of churches. They become, at least for the day, a symbolic focal point of new life.
But it must be lonely being a cross after Easter. Its preeminence has faded, and it blends into the hours of the common day. It’s now simply a reliable symbol, something seen in casual observation but not taken seriously, something glimpsed, but its redemptive powers largely ignored.
Never take the cross lightly. It’s no idle icon simply taking up space in homes or on grounds. It has latent powers, powers that can discern and affect the affairs of the world and can reach into the very soul and nature of humanity. Scripture records these revelations on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion:
Spectators beheld in stolid indifference;
Rulers mocked, being threatened
Religious leaders ridiculed
Brutal humanity railed
Penitent sinners prayed last-minute pleas
The Covetous sat and played their sordid game
The cross also has a strange power to trouble us. Like a stone cast into a placid pond, it creates ripples. It can open the door to questions, uncomfortable questions, questions that can disrupt our carefully structured status quo. We live in worlds of constant indecision; we dance around issues, avoid unpleasant situations. The cross has the power to bring us face to face with our procrastinations and to encourage us to confront overdue decisions. Bunyan wrote Pilgrim’s Progress. It’s an insightful Christian allegory that reveals the power of the cross:
“Now I saw in my dream, that the highway up which Christian was to go was fenced on either side with a wall, and that wall was called Salvation. Up this way therefore did burdened Christian run, but with great difficulty, because of the load on his back.
He ran thus till he came at a pace somewhat ascending; and upon that place stood a cross, and a little below, in the bottom, a sepulcher. So I saw in my dream that just as Christian came up with the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble, and so continued to do till it came to the mouth of the sepulcher, where it fell in, and I saw it no more.”
Such is the redemptive quality of the cross, a power to unburden anyone willing to accept its standing offer of reconciliation.
This Friday the crosses at most churches will be draped in black in observance of Jesus’ death. Such somber scenes draw no crowds but remind us that we often find ourselves walking alone through dark valleys in this life.
But as we, the Christian community, gather around the flowered cross on Easter Sunday and listen closely, we might hear the cross whisper, “Look unto Me and be ye saved.” It’s a reminder that every day reconciliation and redemption are available for all believers, just for the asking.
The cross is only crowded at Easter. Why not every day?
April 9, 2020