I feel like the church year is coming to the last lap before we head into Advent and the Christmas season. I have been working ahead on writing my commentaries/blogs, and can see that the number of weeks before Canadian Thanksgiving are dwindling down. That Canadian holiday marks the mid-way point for the month of October; and once we are in October, the weeks until U.S. Thanksgiving tend go quickly. But we are not there yet!
This is Holy Cross Day. And since it comes in the midst of the week, so we are taking a break at this point of the week to celebrate the day. And the process adding an extra commentary entry. Holy Cross Day is the day in the church year that we consider the symbol of the Cross itself. The Revised Common Lectionary gives full depth and breadth of scripture, and my goal is to incorporate several portions in my reflections.
“ . . . but the people became impatient on the way.” (Numbers 21:4b)
An adult version of “Are we there yet?”
“The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” (Verse 5)
The Israelites in the desert were guilty of ingratitude – a common human failing that is not confined to just one place or one time or one generation. I recently completed a book extolling the practice of gratitude and another one on positive thinking. Just so you know, this practices inevitably lead to joy and blessing. Ingratitude however . . .
“Then the LORD sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live. So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.” (Verses 6 – 9)
Can you envision that pole with the metal snake wrapped around it? This symbol has also been adapted as a symbol of healing. How ironic that the symbol of pain and death is also a symbol of resurgence of health. The same is true of the cross, a symbol of suffering under Roman law is also a symbol of renewed life beyond the life we know in this world.
“No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” ( John 3:13-15)
When the serpent in the desert was wriggling on the ground, it was feared. But up on the pole it became a symbol of the consequences of doubting Yahweh. And by recognizing that the Israelites were saved and cured. But, while the symbol of the snake and the pole and the cross are both lifted up (thank writer of the gospel of John for that parallel imagery), the symbol of the cross represents the hope that is given to us through Jesus Christ – although that may be pushing the margins of what Holy Cross Day is about.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (Verses 16 – 17)
The image of the cross is used in many ways. Sometimes the cross is empty, meaning that Jesus’ time did not end on the cross. Sometimes the cross is imaged with Jesus on it, representing the suffering and death of Jesus. The cross is not always two beams or lines that intersect. It might be ornate, such as the Celtic cross. There is also the Ankh cross. And many, many more. As many styles as there are ways to use the cross. But, beloved reader, for those who know the story of the cross each representation of it carries the same message.
“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (I Corinthians 1:18)
It has been my practice some years that during Lent I always wear a symbol of the cross somewhere; I have vast collection of jewelry that incorporate the symbol of the cross. And I have been known to add it to other pieces of jewelry. It reminds me of many aspects of the Christian life, not the least of which is Holy Cross Day.
“For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (Verses 19 -24)
I like to think about early Christians finding ways to incorporate the symbol of the cross in their lives. Surely it is not an invention of more modern times. Perhaps it was at the risk of their lives to display the cross openly. I do know when the display of crosses became more acceptable, the crosses grew more ornate. Bejeweled and made of precious metal, they become more a symbol of wealth, power and privilege that a faith statement. But stark and rough, they hark back to suffering that came on the cross. Where, I have to wonder, where is the acceptable medium? I have two cross pieces of jewelry that I rarely wear; one has different colored stones that are embedded in the beams. The other has all black ebony-colored stones and is rather Gothic. Neither are ones I wear often at all. I have an bracelet where all the charms are different styles of crosses. And I have tiny crosses that I have attached to different necklaces so I can wear the cross without “wearing” the cross. It may seem foolish to have so many symbols of the cross to wear, but as the writer of I Corinthians said, well, you know.
May you, beloved reader, spend some time thinking about the cross on Holy Cross Day. Maybe even wear one! I know I probably will!! Shalom & Selah!