“Ron, you are a pastor, why don’t you wear a cross like many other pastors and priests do?”
That is a question that comes along to me in some form or another once in a while. More often someone asks, “Ron, why have you insisted that the New Covenant Fellowship building not be filled with cross imagery, as so many other church buildings are?”
Those are very good questions, and it is easy for someone to think that I am somehow ashamed of the cross/crucifixion/execution event that is a very central part of the New Testament narrative. Nothing could be further from the truth. What is true is that I think the cross has become in many circles a symbol of beauty and decoration, and in other circles a symbol of keeping Jesus on the cross permanently in a seemingly perpetual crucifixion.
Jesus is certainly not still on the cross, and there is no magic available in acting as though he is, whether in the eucharist or elsewhere. But, neither did the resurrection turn the cross into a beautiful jewelry charm.
If we want to get in touch with what the symbol of the cross meant to the first century Jewish writers of the New Testament, we need to get in touch with their historical experiences. The Romans had crucified 1000’s of Jewish people before they crucified Jesus, and they crucified many more after they crucified Jesus. The Roman cross was to the Jewish community a symbol of torture, shame, oppression, arrogant misuse of power, and rampant brutality. It was a political power statement: “Do not ever forget; we are in charge here!”
I grew up in the south where 1000’s of reported and unreported lynchings took place as Caucasian Americans lynched black Americans. The goal was to be sure that “troublemakers” and “potential troublemakers” understood clearly who held the power. It didn’t really matter too much whether the person swinging from a tree was guilty or not, the message was still clearly sent to others. This is exactly how the Romans thought about crucifying Jews. So, for me to understand the first century Jewish follower of Jesus responding to the symbol of the cross, I would need to understand that it felt a lot like seeing a hangman’s noose swinging from a tree limb in the south. (more…)