The Cross of Christ has been made many things, but ultimately it is only one thing.
To most, it is a finely crafted adornment on a chain, to be hung around our necks; it is romanticised.
It has become a symbol of Christianity and its founder – Jesus Christ.
It is found on flags – many European countries have it embedded on their national flags.
And it is now illegal to wear in places of employment in France, due to its aggressively secularized vision of the state.
The Cross is many things.
But what it actually is, is something quite different.
The cross was a brutal form of torture and subjugation employed by Rome to let its vassals know who was in charge.
Thousands of Jews were crucified by zealous Rome policy. Pax Romana was all very well if you towed the line, otherwise peace was the last thing you could expect. It was ignominious to be crucified. You were considered criminal, and publicly shamed as naked you hung, probably already viciously beaten, until you drowned in the fluid collecting in your lungs. Nothing romantic, nothing merciful, nothing but extreme pain and degradation. This was how Jesus died – just another poor wretch that crossed Rome’s power – so it seemed.
The cross was a great defeat, it appeared.
The most wonderful person to grace this earth was dispatched by the powers, without much more than a thought. And yet, what is weakness and shame to man was the display of God’s power and wisdom. In the cross, in the pain and shame, was the defeat of the dark powers that subjugate humankind – it was the crucifixion of sin and death. In the cross is a wisdom that beggars the greatest of philosophers.
This victory of God is not a once off historical act; it is re-enacted and embodied (incarnated, if you like) every time love is optioned, every time forgiveness is extended, every time God’s people don’t revel in and rely on man’s power to resolve matters.
Our celebration of military power is siding alongside the same sort of power/s that killed the prince of life.
The cross is not just something that happened, in the sense we look back on it – it is the pattern of the way of the Messiah. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians was largely about their worldly perceptions of wisdom, patronage and privilege. He was at pains to show in his own life the cruciform lifestyle of a genuine apostle. He preached Christ crucified – he lived Christ crucified. He took the form of a servant. The cross was his impetus, his vision, his grid, his burden.
The cross subverts everything common to and preferred by humans. Like the apostle Peter, who died upside down, we are to live upside down – in leadership, in life, in teaching and in example. What was despised by man is hailed by heaven.
The cross is life, power and wisdom to us, death, weakness and folly to others.
“For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”