According to Rowan Williams, author of the book The Sign and The Sacrifice, The Meaning of the Cross and Resurrection (catchy title I know but a really good read), I’m not the only one who had these feelings. Mine just happened to be coming a couple thousand years late.
When Christianity was a start up religion, there were no crosses on display. Williams suggests that we cannot understand this unless we substitute a cross for an “electric chair, or perhaps a guillotine. For them, the cross was a sign of suffering, humiliation, disgrace.” (p.3)
Where were crosses? A revolt in Galilee that took place when Jesus was a child had been crushed by the Romans. The result? Thousands of crosses on the roadside. Crosses were shameful symbols of political oppression. Painful reminders of what was lost. This of course is all coming straight out of Rowan’s book. And he goes on to say, “When in the Gospels Jesus speaks of picking up your cross and following him, he is not using a religious metaphor for things becoming a bit difficult.” (p.4)
This is exactly what I was thinking about forty years ago. And in his book, Williams says that all of us ought to be asking this question. Of course, he has answers too. And I’ll get to that.
But for now, I want you to think about how often we end up flying on automatic pilot around topics that we assume we know all there is to know about. Crosses for Christians in our time is a thing. We accept it. My mother and father having eventually returned to church in their later years, accepted those crosses as is. My dad gave her a jewel encrusted one; a simple gold one; an ornate silver one with diamond chips in the years after they returned to the institution.
Sometimes I get complacent. I forget to read books that teach me new things about my old faith. Authors like Rowan Williams inspire me. I re-discover what has always been true for me – the study of scripture feels like streams of living waters cleaning out the grime and grit that accumulates over time in a world that rarely asks the hard or weird questions.
So I have this suggestion: follow along with me this month as we follow the teachings of Rowan Williams. Let’s see what this cross and resurrection stuff is all about. Maybe you, like me, have gotten rusty or need some refreshment as it relates to our faith experience.