I think it is a fairly safe bet to say that anyone reading this reflection will have a cross/crucifix in their house, probably more than one, and something that we see every day? Be it hanging on a wall, or freestanding, the cross is the first and most recognised symbol of Christ and the Church. But because it is so common, do we become blind to the significance of the cross in our lives?
During my formation period for the diaconate, we were occasionally challenged by our lecturers with one or other of those ‘difficult’ questions that get asked of you once you are ordained. One particular question was “why do Christians give so much importance to the cross – surely you shouldn’t glorify, what was after all, an instrument of torture, suffering and death?”
But! The answer really lies in the question, well it does to us who believe that Christ, through the power of what was achieved on the cross, overcame death and in doing so unlocked for us the promise of salvation and eternal life with him! The cross was the instrument that overcame death, not promoted it.
The significance of Jesus choosing to die on the cross is not lost on St Paul, in the letter to the Philippians (2:6-11) we are reminded that Jesus was humbler yet to even accepting death on a cross. The key point being ‘even death on a cross’. In those times death on a cross was reserved for the worst in society, the lower than low, yet through the cross, effectively the ultimate insult, we can find salvation.
The cross is also an enduring symbol of our belief in the message of Christ. Last year I was at a national conference of Fire and Rescue Service chaplains. Whilst we came from a wide variety of Christian backgrounds the one thing that commonly made those who wore a uniform stand out as a chaplain, was the insignia of a cross. And it is the same with chaplains in the military and other such places, this simple sign makes each stand out as a Christian chaplain. Instantly recognisable.
As a part of the Confirmation programme each year we ask the candidates to draw a picture of a ‘Christian’. Very often the final pictures will contain a cross, either on or nearby to the character. This is taken as being the universal visible sign of being a Christian.
The cross is an enduring sign of our faith. A testament to the lengths that Christ was prepared to go to in order to offer to us a route to the Father. But it goes much further than that. We only have to walk down Week Street to see the cross in a number of places, not just in churches, but also in the shops, a cross on t-shirts, jewellery and even in one of the pound shops where crosses are on sale. The cross, as a sign, can be seen on our TV screens, you only have to watch a major sporting event and we often see someone make the sign of the cross as they enter the field of play or celebrate success. Churches or places of worship are marked on my sat-nav as a cross. Those who do not have any contact with faith, or those who say they don’t believe in God, still recognise the cross as a sign of faith.
The cross is a sign that we encounter on a daily basis, but do we ever stop to think about how significant that sign is to us and our belief. When we make the sign of the cross does it say to me, I am in the presence of The Lord? Or is it just an automatic action?
Perhaps one of the most powerful prayers we can say is ‘In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’. Short and directly to the point, the summit of our belief, not a means to destruction, but a means to salvation. The focus of our Catholic lives. Or is the sign of the cross merely to me a way of starting and finishing a prayer or Mass? – ‘Holy bookends’ as I once heard the sign of the cross once described!
If we take a chance to just sit and look at the cross, we are given an opportunity to consider how we ourselves relate to the cross, what it should mean to us and how it fits into our daily lives?
The significance of the cross can be summed up in the phrase used during the liturgy of the stations of the cross, “We adore you oh Christ and we bless you, because by your cross you have redeemed the world.”
The cross in my house, what does that mean to me?
Let us pray that it remains our focus and inspiration, our direction and source of hope, our faith summed up in front of us.
Deacon Ian Black