When we leave TISEC, the initial training body for the Scottish Episcopal Church, each person is given a holding cross. .. This is mine.
I know that it is used as a way of feeling closer to God. Of remembering Jesus. Until this week I always thought it strange that it was so smooth, so clean, when the cross of Jesus was rough, had splinters, nails and blood.
Today is Holy Cross Day. On Good Friday we recall Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross, but today focuses on the cross as the instrument of our salvation.
It is easy to see the cross in the same way we might view an electric chair or gallows. After all, it has gained significance only because that was the way Romans killed criminals at that time. It was a humiliating death, and it took many years for the followers of Jesus to begin to acknowledge and talk about the cross, because it was such a shameful way to die.
Sometimes it is easy for us, as children of the Enlightenment, to stay on this side of the cross, to see it only as an instrument of death.
But that is not the whole story.
This week I have attended a funeral and have also had to plan one out. The funeral I went to on Tuesday was of a lady who did not profess any faith in her lifetime, and the funeral was presented as an opportunity for us to say goodbye to her.
And yet, it was run through with a mythology of eternal life.
“She is now with her husband” ….
We sang ‘Who’s Gonna Drive You Home Tonight’, but then followed it up with ‘How Great Thou Art’.
It was almost as though there was a faint memory of the gospel narrative, a hope that there was something there beyond what we can see and touch. But it was all mixed up, chaotic.
And then last Tuesday one of the members of Albany Deaf Church died.
And as someone who has known relatively few deaths, I was confronted with the hope that we have because of the cross. The words of the committal were brought home to me.
Instead of being the marker for the end of life, the cross is the gateway to being with God forever.
As a (relatively!) younger person it is easy to focus on how faith in Jesus affects our life in the here and now. How the Kingdom of God is shown on earth.
It is easy to accept the idea that belief in eternal life is simply ‘pie in the sky when you die’, the ‘opium of the masses’.
But as that funeral on Tuesday showed, when you grow up without any church influence and live your life without reference to God, there is still something in us as human beings that knows that this is not all there is. We may call ourselves a secular society, but when it matters people are still searching for deeper meaning than that which only science can provide.
And when we view the cross only as the place where Jesus ended his life, we totally miss the whole point. Death is not the end. The cross is a doorway to God.
But we are challenged …. in a world of confused narratives and myths, who is going to give the bigger picture? Not to say that we understand everything – there is still the mystery of what happened on the cross. But if we are honest, how much are we influenced by the idea of cross as final ending, not by the cross as a gateway? And if we really embraced that truth, how would it change our views on death and dying?
For God so loved the world that he sent his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. Amen.
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