Minister's Blog

Reflections from habitat uniting church's minister, Rev Joan Wright Howie.

What to you make of the Cross?

Sunday, September 02, 2018
Suspended mid air at the heart of our worship space, we have a cross.

It’s a cross made for the refurbished worship space to echo the old timber and the bronzed metal frames which are new features in our old building. When we refurbished the church our architect redesign the space around the six key Christian symbols:
People, Water, Light, Word, Bread and Wine at table, and the Cross.

The Cross hangs here in our protestant church tradition empty – the symbol of death and torture not encumbered by the crucified Jesus, but empty reminding us of the resurrection into new life and freedom. We celebrate the risen Christ, the one in whom we are healed and connected and find new life.

The Cross as a symbol is an ancient and complex one. It’s use predates Christianity as it represents the inverted tree of life. Like the tree of life, the cross stands for the world’s axis. Placed at the mystic center of the cosmos, it becomes the bridge or ladder by means for which souls may reach God. The cross represents the relationship between the two worlds of the celestial and the earthly intersecting and creating a conjunction of opposites, welding together the spiritual (vertical) and the world of phenomena (horizontal). The two arms have also been associated with the two sticks early people used to rub together to make fire – Jung described these as the masculine and the feminine and the cross that point conjunction that brings forth passion, fire and new life. The words for cross have a common etymologic base with the words for fire.

There are hundreds of different shapes of the cross with the connecting point of two lines – here there is a cross road, the coming together of difference at the intersection of possibility and impossibility, construction and destruction, time and space.

Jesus speak to his friends about the cross when he is preparing to go into Jerusalem and bring his non-violent protest movement right into the heart of political and religious power.

“The Holy one of God must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” Luke 9:22- 24

How do you respond to these words?

What does Jesus mean by calling us to take up our cross daily?

It’s a bit hard for us to understand what Jesus meant from contemporary Melbourne 2000 years later.

The people of Jesus’ day they saw the cross as an equivalent to our ‘Electric Chair’ a method of execution for criminals. Historically, the only time a man was seen carrying his cross, was on his way to die! The Romans required the criminal to carry the cross-beam to a place of execution. The route chosen was always through the most populated part of the city, in order to make the people aware of who was being punished. It was a public witness that this person was forced to make, identifying him with the crime he had committed. Jesus call to take up our cross is a difficult one.

The cross you voluntarily take up, is to walk in the ‘Public Market Place’ of life, openly identifying yourself as one who is following Jesus’ way and stand up for what you believe to be right. Even to the point of suffering. Jesus didn’t just die. He was executed by the powers that ruled his world – a combination of Roman imperial authority and collaboration by high-ranking temple authorities. Together, they were the domination system of the time. They killed him because, in the name of the Kingdom of God, he challenged how they had put the world together – and he was beginning to attract a following.

His mode of execution is unambiguous testimony to that: crucifixion was a Roman form of capital punishment reserved for those who systematically defied imperial authority. Jesus did not advocate violent revolt, he emphasized non-violent resistance to the domination system of his time. So it killed him.

Within this historical framework, his death was the domination system’s “No” to Jesus and what he was passionate about. That is the political meaning of the cross. His resurrection is God’s “Yes” to Jesus and what Jesus was passionate about – the Kingdom of God – and God’s “No” to the powers of domination that killed Jesus. The cross has a political meaning.

Death and resurrection are an archetypal metaphor of transformation. “Archetypal” means something so deeply imprinted in the human psyche that it seems to be from the beginning. Dying and rising is one of those archetypes, found in perhaps every religion and culture that we know about. Paul describes this dying and rising when he says: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2.19b-20a). The old Paul had died; a new Paul had been born whose life was now “in Christ”. Paul speaks of dying and rising with Christ as the foundation of Christian identity and life (Romans 6).

In early Christianity, the cross of Jesus was utterly central. Central as revelation of God’s passion and Jesus’s passion for the transformation of this world; and as revelation of the way, the path, of personal transformation.

The question becomes for us this morning is, “What does it actually mean to follow Jesus, especially in these modern times, what's our life going to look like? Why would anyone what to take up a cross if it leads to suffering?

If you were to offer me a life of suffering and problems versus a life free from these things, I'd go for the problem free life myself.  For who would welcome the idea of suffering if there were other options available?

Yet this is where we must suddenly get very honest about the Christian life. Christianity is not about solving problems and making life easier. If anything, following Jesus is going to complicate our lives, and unmistakably so.

In the last paragraph of his great book entitled Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis has these important lines.  “The principle runs through all life, from top to bottom,” he says. “Give up yourself and you will find your real self. Lose life and it will be saved.  Submit to death—the death of ambitions and secret wishes.  Keep nothing back.  Nothing in us that has not died will ever be raised from the dead.  Look for Christ,” says C.S. Lewis, “and you will find him, and with him, everything else thrown in.” “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.”   If you want to have a worthwhile life, you and I are going to have to look for ways to give that life away.  

If we want to save our life, we're going to have to hand over those petty obsessions and those mistaken priorities.  We're going to have to think more of loving than of being loved, more of understanding than of being understood, more of forgiving than of being forgiven. We’re going to have to change our priorities from growing our own security to securing the safety of every person. We’re going to have to shift our allegiance from protecting the system that protects us, to seeking protection for the unprotected. We are called to lose our grip on controlling our lives for the sake of all life on our planet. A change of focus, a shift in priorities and we gather in the worship space around the core symbols of the Christian faith.

We are the people whom God calls beloved. Through the waters of Baptism we let go of our separateness and are born into new life in whom the light of Christ shines. We are fed by the Word and at the table and participate in community where we remember that we, though many, are one body, called to take up the cross and follow in the way of transformation.

 

Habitat Uniting Church Office
2 Minona Street, Hawthorn VIC
phone 9819 2844
office@habitatforspirituality.org.au

St David's Centre
cnr Burke & Mont Albert Rds
Canterbury VIC

Habitat Spirituality Centre
@ Augustine

2 Minona St, Hawthorn VIC

Kew Uniting Church
23 Highbury Grove
Kew VIC