Many 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. Vice President Bush represented the United States at Brezhnev’s state funeral in Moscow.
This Communist country did not recognize Christianity, and nothing in the funeral ceremony hinted at any notion of life after death. If there were believers in attendance, they would never have openly displayed any act of their faith because of the threat of condemnation by the Communist government. That would have been taking a chance that would have great repercussions. Yet at the funeral, Vice President Bush saw something that was unimaginable and to some even incredible in Communist Russia.
The account in Christianity Today explained that George Bush was profoundly touched by a silent expression by Brezhnev’s widow. Seconds before her husband’s coffin was closed, Mrs. Brezhnev stood silent during those concluding moments. As the guards moved to close the coffin, Brezhnev’s wife performed a momentous act that reflected the hope that was within her: she quickly bent down and made the sign of the cross over her husband’s body.
It could be considered one of the most radical deeds of political disobedience ever committed. Yet, in the midst of that environment hostile to God, Mrs. Brezhnev silently hoped there something besides the atheist viewpoints of communist Russia. She recognized that Jesus Christ had died on the cross and her actions displayed that hope that was within her.
The cross has such great significance. People accept that Jesus was an exemplary man. People are familiar with the Sermon on the Mount and the moral teachings Jesus gave. People know at least one or two of the Ten Commandments. But why is the cross the most significant? Jesus died on the cross for our sins. Jesus’ supreme sacrifice of love on the Cross was the ultimate act that would forever bridge the gulf between God and man and make a way for each person to know God personally.
Millions through the ages have come to know Jesus because of what he did on the Cross. The very testimony of that event 2000 years ago has endured through sophisticated communications, time, distance and that testimony of Jesus sacrifice on the cross has become real in the hearts of millions, no matter what culture or nationality.
From all outward appearances, it seems that Mrs. Brezhnev knew the significance of the cross. The time came for her and she had to hold on to something that would give her comfort. For all of us, a time will come when we have to meet death. It will either be a personal experience or an occurrence when those we love face death.
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) The message of Easter is that Jesus is alive. In his resurrection and in his life, we all see the significance of the cross.
Judy Brandon is an instructor at Clovis Community College. Contact her at: