By Judy Brandon
Several years ago, author Gary Thomas wrote an account in “Christianity Today” that touched the hearts of many readers. He wrote of an account in George Bush’s term as vice president when the then-Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev died. Bush was sent to Brezhnev’s state funeral in Moscow to represent the United States.
Of course, this Communist country did not acknowledge Christianity, and the funeral ceremony had nothing about life after death. If there were believers in attendance, they would never have openly demonstrated any show of faith because of the risk of censure by the Communist government. That would have been taking a risk that would have great repercussions. But at the funeral, Bush saw something that was unimaginable and, to some, even incredible in Communist Russia.
The account in “Christianity Today” explained that the senior Bush was deeply impressed by a silent protest by Brezhnev’s widow. Seconds before her husband’s coffin was to be closed, she stood quietly during those final moments. Then just as the guards moved to seal the coffin, Brezhnev’s wife did something that reflected the hope within her. She quickly bent down and made the sign of the cross over her husband’s body.
The author noted that, looking back, it could be considered one of the boldest acts of political defiance ever committed. Yet, there in the stronghold of that Communist government, Mrs. Brezhnev silently hoped there was a higher life, another dimension besides the atheistic viewpoints that her husband so aspired to. She knew Jesus Christ who died on the cross best symbolized the longing that was within her, so she made the sign of the cross.
In the secular view, death is the end. It does mean ashes to ashes and dust to dust.
But what about the cross? People acknowledge that Jesus was an exemplary man. They give credence to the Sermon on the Mount and the moral teachings of an admirable life. They try to live by the Ten Commandments, but still seem to be confused by the cross.
The cross deals with the deepest need of the human heart — sin. Christ died on the cross not to change God’s attitude toward us, but to change us and our attitude toward him. Jesus’ sacrifice of love on the cross was the supreme act of reconciliation between God and man, so man could know God personally.
Millions through the ages have come to know Jesus because of what he did on the cross.
The testimony of that event 2000 years ago has transcended time and has made itself known in the hearts of millions, regardless of culture or nationality.
It seems that Mrs. Brezhnev knew the significance of the cross.
For all of us, a time will come when we have to confront death, either a personal confrontation or an experience with others.
Centuries ago, Job asked this question: “If a man die, shall he live again?”
Jesus answered that question: “I am the resurrection and the life. He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live” (John 11:25).
In his resurrection and in his life, we all see the significance of the cross.