By Curtis K. Shelburne: CNJ columnist
Picture, if you will, a young man, a very decent sort, but a young fellow who wants to assert his individuality a bit, along with his right to dress as he wishes. He pokes good-natured fun at his stodgy ol’ dad, a businessman who regularly boards airplanes and flies to meetings with scads of other guys who look just like him. You know the uniform: white shirt, dark suit, conservative tie. Whole coveys of seemingly cookie-cutter-created business-folk wear it down jetways every day.
The young man standing self-consciously in front of his mirror spiking his hair wants no part of that ol’ stodgy uniform. So, he carefully pokes into holes in his head, which God did not give him, several rings of various sizes and shapes. He puts on, well, his own uniform and becomes, ironically enough, a cookie-cutter copy of about a jillion other very style-conscious individuals of about his own age asserting their right to dress as they wish. Uniquely, you know.
But if you look at this young man’s earring, one of them, you’ll see dangling from it a little golden replica of “Ol’ Sparky,” an electric chair.
Okay. Now picture an aging “high roller,” his shirt unbuttoned down about to his waist, rings on most of his fingers, and, around his neck a gold chain, and hanging from the chain, nestled in a lawn of mostly gray chest hair, a small golden replica of an institutional operating table with a miniscule IV full of poison hanging above it.
Or picture this: In churches all over the world, at the focal points of the sanctuaries, and on the front of pulpits and the ends of pews and around the necks of clergymen, are little golden hangmen’s knots. (Unless you’re in France where, maybe, on the tops of their communion trays are little gilded guillotines.)
Funny pictures, huh?
But, when you think about it, what’s different about the crosses that actually do adorn all the places I’ve mentioned and many more?
The cross, before Christ, was just an instrument of execution.
It was not beautiful jewelry.
It was not a symbol of holiness pointing to God.
It held no message of hope; it’s wordless message spoke loudly only of death.
But after the very Son of God himself died on a cross, everything changed. He “baptized” that symbol of death in his own blood.
Yes, on crosses thousands of people had died. And on crosses thousands still do, but they die, with Christ, to be born to new life.
Because of the cross of Christ, where all of our sin and guilt was nailed and killed and carried away, we are given power to die to sin and self and to be made alive to God, and we can say with Paul that it’s “in the cross of Christ, I glory” (Galatians 6:14), for in that now-beautiful symbol is our hope.