The cross: a shining symbol of hope

July 14, 2008

Rev. Bill Hillyer, Saving Grace Lutheran Church, Delano

Last night my wife and I stopped at a jewelry store to pick up a watch that needed repair.

While waiting to be helped, I noticed a jewelry section for men. In the men’s section were several large, quite expensive, and some quite large, crosses.

Now, as a Lutheran Christian, I am used to asking the question, “What does this mean?” when reading and studying scripture. But, I found myself asking that question at the jewelry counter, as well.

One of the employees asked if I wanted to look at any of the necklaces. I replied that I was really just curious to know if they sold many crosses to the masculine gender.

The young man replied that yes, surprisingly, they did. Crosses, it seems, are currently a very popular piece of jewelry for men.

After retrieving the repaired watch, we walked around the mall window shopping for what seemed like hours. But, I did notice that the young jeweler was correct in his assessment. You do see them everywhere – people wearing crosses around their neck, or hanging from their ears, glistening and gleaming in the light.

It used to be that only Christians wore crosses – but not anymore! Especially the really big ones, you know, the ones that pastors, priests, and other church workers wear when conducting a worship service. These sdays, it seems that everyone is wearing them – and the bigger and flashier they are, the better.

But why would anyone wear a cross? What does it mean to those who wear one?

As the apostle Paul wraps up his letter to the Galatians, he does so with a stirring statement: “As for me, God forbid that I should boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world died long ago, and the world’s interest in me is also long dead.” (Galatians 6:14, New Living Translation).

You see, the cross of Christ means not only the rough, wooden beams to which the body of Jesus was nailed; it also means the whole redemptive work of Jesus by which He earned forgiveness and eternal life for us through His suffering and death.

The cross means blood, suffering, anguish, and abandonment by God. It means a cruel, shameful, and painful, lingering death. It is anything but bling-bling.

The cross of Christ was not a beautiful gilded emblem, adorned with precious stones, attached to a chain to be worn around the neck. It was not an object of admiration, but a symbol of shameful death – like the gas chamber, the electric chair, the gallows, or a needle filled with liquid death. It was an executioner’s tool.

People who lived in the Roman Empire would not even say the word, “cross.” It was the “four-letter” word of the times. Death upon a cross was so humiliating and dehumanizing, that Roman citizens simply did not even want to think about it.

Unfortunately, today, the cross has become just another piece of cheap jewelry, like imitation pearls or a birthstone. It is to the point where we wonder if anyone really understands the meaning of a cross anymore.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I love wearing a cross. In fact, one of my most prized possessions is a small bronze cross necklace dug up in Palestine that dates from the 7th century. The cross is indeed a shining symbol of hope for Christians.

But, whenever you see, touch, or wear a cross, may you be reminded that because Jesus died on the cross, you are forgiven, at peace with God, and are a child of God. Through Him you have received the gift of grace – eternal life. He who died also returned to life, and is now exalted at God’s right hand in majesty and power, and will come again one day soon as the judge of all men and women, living and deceased.

We need to realize that the cross is so much more than a beautiful emblem. It is also a symbol of agony and death, of love and devotion, a symbol of our salvation.

It’s not just, “What would Jesus do?” but, “What has Jesus done?” And it was all done for us upon that ugly, dirty, wooden cross.

The cross that Christians wear is the emblem of hope for all mankind. It is only through the cross that mankind has the promise of something better than this world. It is only through the cross of Christ that God has provided the answers to all our problems.

Thank God for the cross.