Finding the Cross


If you grew up Lutheran, you didn't grow up celebrating this day. Although Holy Cross Day was a festival during the Reformation, it wasn't in our Lutheran hymnal till 1982. This day commemorates the exposition of the supposed true cross at Jerusalem in 629 (ODCC, 489). For Lutherans is this day really about finding the cross? Yes & no.

In one sense, the cross doesn't need to be found. Say the actual cross of Christ did turn up. What good would it do? We would have an ancient piece of wood. Ah but it would be stained with the Blood of Christ. So what? We have His Blood in Holy Communion. But the wood would have microscopic pieces of His Body. So what? We have all of His Body in Communion.

The actual cross would be like Jordan River water. People think that water is better, holier because Jesus was baptized in it. But God never attached one promise to Jordan River water specifically. He has attached the promises of forgiveness, rescue from death and devil, and eternal salvation to baptismal water. It's the same with the cross. You can't get forgiveness, life, or salvation by touching, holding or even eating the actual cross of Christ. These things can be eaten and drank in Communion.

In one sense, we Lutherans see no need to find the true cross, and there is no shortage of crosses in our society. Look at musicians and actors. They're adorned and tattooed with them. Look at movies and TV. They often have crosses displayed. This is no accident. Look along the road sides of America. Make shift crosses marking traffic fatalities are everywhere.

Lutherans, in one sense, aren't interested in finding the cross. It wouldn't do any good to find the real one, and there are plenty of crosses already. But in another sense we are interested in finding the cross. We're interested in finding the real meaning of the cross. This has been lost in our day. People wear crosses as fashion statements. It's "in" to wear them. It's not a mark of foolishness or weakness as Paul says. If it were how many movie stars or musicians would be wearing them? Do such people normally wear things that they believe will make them look foolish or weak? No, far from it; they wear what they believe makes them appear to be a wise and powerful.

What about the crosses on the big or little screen? What are they for? Although frequently they are in scenes that cast an unfavorable light on Christianity, even then they aren't regarded as marks of foolishness and weakness. They're merely the official logo of Christianity. The cross or crucifix in our age is the equivalent of the Apple logo. It's a company symbol. It doesn't say anything about the company; it only identifies the company's presence.

How about road side markers? They're just that. They mark where a death occurred. The cross, particularly an empty cross, in our society is a symbol for death, not the death of Christ but any death. For example, regardless of your faith, the Florida highway department erects a cross to mark where you died. Graves are just supposed to be marked that way. Even the graves of animals are marked with a cross. The cross has come to symbolize death not the foolishness and weakness of God like Paul says.

So where do we go to find the true meaning of the cross? Back hundreds of centuries to the Old Testament where the Cross first raises its ugly head. Deut. 21:23 says, "He who is hanged on a tree is cursed by God." Impaling on a piece of wood from a tree wasn't how Israel usually executed people. They stoned them. If they wished to show someone was cursed by God, they impaled him. It was God-given sign or symbol of God's curse. How do you know where God's curse is to be found? Look for the cross.

This is why the disciples were startled when Jesus made it clear He was going to the cross; this is why they all ran and hid when He was actually crucified; this is why the official church of the day was so shocked when the disciples proclaimed this crucified Jesus as the Christ of God, as the Jehovah of the Old Testament, as their Lord and Savior. How could that be? How could He be God in flesh and blood? How could He be the Christ of God when He was cursed by God !?

Do you see what an offense the cross was? Do you see how it made the first Christians look foolish and weak? This continued right into the early church. There is a famous work of graffiti from the 200s that illustrates this. It was found on the walls of the imperial pages quarters in Rome. It is a drawing of a human body but with the head of a donkey, and this figure is nailed to a cross. It's on your bulletin cover. The inscription there reads, "Alexamenos worships his God" (Evangelism Early Church, 174).

Can you imagine marking your body then with the sign of the cross? Can you imagine marking even a grave? How about wearing it around you neck? How about using it as the icon by which your group would be popularly known? It wasn't popular. It was foolish; it was weak. So how come we find Paul saying, "May it never be that I should boast except in the cross?" How come Paul tells the Corinthians, "I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified?"

And why is it still this way among some Christians? Why do some Christians place crosses inside and outside of their buildings? Why do some adorn their altars with crucifixes? Why do some have particularly gruesome crucifixes showing Jesus, their Savior, Lord, and God in all His grotesque, contorted agony? Why do we sing songs like "Abide with Me" where we pray for Christ to "Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes?" And "In the Cross of Christ I Glory?" Because the Cross still preaches to us.

The Cross preaches to us that God became a curse in our place. That He died the death of a cursed, outcast sinner because He took our sins as His own. When we see a cross we're seeing the only answer to our sinfulness: Not our suffering but Christ's, not our dying but His, not the many crosses that we may carry in our life but the one Cross Christ carried from womb to tomb. When we see the Cross we see that God loved sinners more than He did His own Son, and His own Son loved sinners more than He did Himself. But you know all that. It's good stuff; it's great stuff, but there's even more. There's stuff that applies to your everyday life not just to your sins; to your earthly life not just to your heavenly salvation.

The Cross preaches to us that God works in foolish ways. Obviously not even His disciples expected Jesus to defeat sin, Devil, and death by allowing Himself to be crucified on a cross in place of all sinners. What could be gained by going silently to be crucified like a sheep going to be sheared? How foolish!

Look at the cross and remember the foolishness of God. The foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men although it always looks foolish. God works through what is foolish to men's wisdom. Rather than send you a wise angel to preach you the word; He sends an unwise pastor. Rather than send a holy angel to forgive your sins, he sends an unholy sinner. Rather than leading you on paths that makes sense He seems to lead you in circles.

But you can find comfort in the cross. The disciples would have spared themselves a lot of heartache if they had just believed that God works through foolishness. They didn't need to fret when Jesus was led away to be crucified. They didn't need to conclude that it was the end of His ministry. They didn't need to run from the cross; they could have embraced it.

The Cross teaches you to embrace the foolish ways of God. Such as praying for patience and getting a difficult child. Praying to be forgiving and getting sinned against more. Praying for daily strength and getting daily weights. Praying to go one way and being led the opposite direction. Relax; you have a God who works through foolishness. You have a God who cannot be understood by man's wisdom. You have a God you can't get your head around, and if you could He wouldn't be much of a God, would He?

Hold the Cross not only before your dying eyes but before your living eyes. Look at it and see how God works in not only foolish ways but utterly powerless ways. Jesus did nothing on the cross but suffer and die. The soldiers crucified Him; the church leaders tormented Him; Satan pressed the sin and guilt of the world down on Him. Jesus hung there meekly, weakly, so much so that it infuriated people. "Come down from there. Save Yourself. You saved others; surely you can save yourself." But Jesus did nothing.

Look at the Cross and remember that God works through what appears powerless. He who triumphed by dying weakly on a cross; still triumphs over your sins by washing them away with weak looking Water. He gives you strength to persevere in the true faith not by pumping you up with good or strong feelings but by giving you His Body and Blood in apparently powerless, Bread and Wine.

Look at the cross and remember God's at work even though you don't feel or see it. He doesn't seem to be doing anything about your troubled marriage, but He is. He doesn't seem to be helping out with your kids, but He is. He doesn't seem to be addressing your loneliness, but He is. O how difficult it is to see Him work so passively, but certainly it's no more difficult than standing at the Cross and saying, "Here God is at work defeating sin, death and the devil for me!" The disciples looking at the Cross could have said that, and you looking through the Cross at your life can say that too!

For Lutherans, today is about finding the Cross in the 21st century not the 7th. My kids use to play a game of finding the FedEx logo. There's an arrow embedded in that 20 year old logo. Embedded in the Cross found in movies, on stars, along the highway, in church or home isn't just your Savior hanging foolishly and weakly, but your victory now and forever. Amen

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

Holy Cross Day (20140914); 1 Corinthians 1: 18-24