From Amy Yoder McGloughlin. This originally appeared in the Mennonite World Review.
I walked into the sanctuary last Friday morning, and could not believe what was on the stage — a life-sized, 10-foot tall cross, complete with nails and a crown of thorns. I had no idea where it came from and, to be honest, it irritated me to find it there. I didn’t ask for it, and I didn’t want it there.
I spent much of the day trying to find out who brought in the 10-foot cross. I sent out an email to the congregation and called the folks with carpenter skills and people who had a key to the building. Finally, I called Tina and left a message: “Tina, do you know anything about a wooden cross left in the sanctuary?” She asked her husband, Jay, who gave her a sheepish, guilty grin. We’d found our cross-maker.
My initial irritation quickly turned to awe as I heard Jay’s story. Moved by our Lenten theme of “Cross Examinations,” Jay decided to make this cross. He searched for the right wood, and when he found it, measured it by laying on it. He carried that cross — alone — up the stairs to the sanctuary, and placed it on the stage.
Since the cross appeared in the sanctuary on Friday, it’s been on my mind. Most disturbing to me was my visceral reaction to it. How often do we find the cross of Christ an unwelcome sight, an unappreciated reminder of the messiness of faith, and the gritty inhumanity of Jesus’ assassination?
In recent history, our Christian tradition has dealt with the messiness of the cross by making it personal — Jesus had to die to save us from our sins, to get us to heaven, to save us from the wrath of God. This is something the early Christians certainly didn’t understand. It took the early church a few generations to even begin to make sense of Jesus’ death and suffering. In fact, there were letters and writings about the meaning of the cross before the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection had even been written down. People were trying to make sense of Jesus’ unexpected death before people knew the whole story of his life.
Today, the surprising and foreboding cross in the sanctuary represents much more than the traditional atonement themes. It represents the cross of suffering that our grieving and disabled members bear. It represents the cross of racism in the murder of Trayvon Martin. It recalls the crosses we are called to carry with our brothers and sisters who need people of faith to walk along with them. And the cross is one of embrace, for those who have suffered know they are not alone in their pain.
While my reaction to the cross was an embarrassing reminder of my own discomfort with this central symbol, it became a moment of transformation. When folks walked into the sanctuary on Sunday, and heard Jay share his personal experience with this life-sized cross, it changed the conversation. This cross was not a distant symbol; it was ours. We knew a little better of the suffering of Jesus, just as we know better the suffering of our neighbors when we risk to share deeply. We knew better of the complex meaning of the cross, because we could sit with it, touch it and recognize it. This cross — once an inconvenient symbol of Jesus’ humanity — became a personal, intimate symbol of our relationship to the resurrected Christ.