In the last two thousand years, Christianity has most significantly symbolised itself through the cross. The cross and the crucifix have been recreated by artists of all cultures and eras. There are the elaborate masterpieces of Greek Orthodox gold and the humble carvings of wooden crosses by the faithful in Vietnam. Architects have risen crosses from stone and sculptors have formed the cross with sand. It’s the proud symbol of Christians – we wear it around our necks, on t-shirts, car stickers, tattoos, the list goes on.
When Christ was crucified, the cross was not an heroic symbol. Death by crucifixion was the most humiliating and shameful death sentence you could receive. Christ was crucified with two thieves who were obviously not considered first class citizens. Even a Roman citizen could not be executed in such a way. They were given the swifter death of a beheading.
Christ was sentenced to the most humiliating and degrading of deaths. All with complete innocence. Thus, His sacrifice made a symbol of humility and unworthiness – much like our status as sinners – an opportunity for redemption and glory.
Which is exactly why Christ told His followers to “pick up your cross and follow me”.
A man I know who was struggling with a personal cross once acknowledged his cross to his sister and how he just had to keep bearing it.
“This is the cross God gave me,” he said, “and if I run away from it, I’ll just run into another one.”
Whilst he accepted he had to make sacrifices and deal with, he wasn’t very optimistic about the idea.
“Christ didn’t just bear His cross,” his sister said, “He embraced it. If you’re going to get through this, you must embrace your cross out of love for what your sacrifice can do.”
It sounds both noble and a bit crazy if you think about it.
There is a moment in the movie, the Passion of the Christ, that has always struck me. It’s when Christ is handed His cross and He takes a moment to hold it. One of the thieves even yells at Him, “Why do you embrace your cross, fool?”
If you’ve ever gotten a splinter, the idea of hugging a rough, heavy plank of wood whilst your body is peppered with open wounds is repulsive. You’d certainly want a good reason to consider doing it.
That is the graphic reality of the cross. That is what being a Christian is. The cross is not smooth and porcelain, with pretty flowers adorning it. It is prickly, it cuts, it is heavy and it hurts.
You must be willing to get sore feet and spiritual splinters and to love so much it hurts. To simply bear something is to put up with it. When we bear something, it is a dead weight that we take on with little say in the matter. And humans can only do that for so long.
But to embrace something… we do that to something we love, something we see value in, something that is worth the pain.
I’m sorry to say these words won’t lessen the splinters in your cross. We often can’t change our cross. But we can change our attitude towards it and the way we decide to meet it. We can also take comfort in the greatest reassurance – that the closer you are to the cross, the closer you are to Christ, and He bears all things with you.