In January of 2001, I was travelling to Axum, Ethiopia for the annual celebration of Timkat. Because of the spiritual significance of celebrating the Ark of the Covenant, and the reenactment of JESUS’ baptism, I was wondering if there were more Christians on our flight other than our group of eight.
As we were boarding our plane in New York, there was a young man in the aisle ahead of me. The large metal cross he wore around his neck caught my attention. I thought he might also be a Christian, so I said to him, “I noticed the cross you are wearing. Are you a Christian?”
“No.” He replied. “I just like the way it looks.”
Feeling disappointed, I found my assigned seat, and settled in for the long flight. The more I thought about the frivolous neckpiece, the sadder I began to feel.
As I thought about it later, I remembered a rough-hewn cross in a small village church in France where my husband, Jim, gave the Sunday morning message. We had just walked down a narrow hall leading to the sanctuary, and there it was. My eyes were immediately drawn to the cross on the front wall. I had never seen a cross with so much “life” as this. For a moment, I couldn’t speak, but only stare. Deep within me was a powerful stirring, a new awareness of the cross. Its wood was ordinary, with a few knotholes scattered across the beams. It had been sanded, and brushed with a protective lacquer. I had seen more elegant-looking crosses, but they spoke nothing to my heart. They were devoid of meaning. Many were just a religious formality, but this one was different.
On the floor about four feet from the base of the cross, stood a small square planter. In the planter grew a luxuriant green vine sustained by sunshine from a nearby window. The vine twined upward toward the sun until it touched the horizontal structure of the cross. With help from a loving hand, it was wound gracefully around the cross. Up, down, and around it grew, clinging gently to the simple cross. At the end, its leafy face turned heavenward.
All through the sermon my eyes were focused on the cross. As I listened to Jim speak, I took my church bulletin, turned it over, and began to sketch that beautiful vine-entwined cross. I wanted to remember it forever. While I sketched, GOD drove the “nails” of its meaning into my heart.
In most cases, the representation of the cross has become almost meaningless. It has become sterile, instead of fertile; just a neckpiece instead of a “heart-piece.” It has become a gaudy, cold showpiece instead of symbolizing the heat of shame and pain. Have we violated
the humility of the cross, and thus lost its significance? The cross means death. JESUS died in my place, for my sins, on a cross. Sin always requires a blood sacrifice for atonement. Our LORD JESUS became that sacrifice as He hung, sinless, on a rugged cross. Over a hundred years ago, George Bennard wrote the words and music for this hymn:
“The Old Rugged Cross”
On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross, The emblem of suff’ring and shame;
And I love that old cross where the Dearest and Best For a world of lost sinners was slain.
So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it some day for a crown.