For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:17-18
In a holy place like a sanctuary of a church, why is the most prominent symbol in it a heinous mode of execution?
Can you imagine going into a church and up in front on or above the altar is a hangman’s noose, or a guillotine, or an electric chair?
But that is what you see in churches that display a cross!
Some churches have a corpus on the cross and these are called crucifixes, as I wrote about in “Crucifix.”
But most protestant churches – including Lutheran ones like the church I serve in – have empty crosses.
An empty cross is a powerful symbol.
The cross represents death. More specifically, the death of death.
Jesus Christ was not the first person to die by crucifixion on a cross. But his death on the cross was different from any that came before or after.
Jesus’ death on a cross brought about the death of death itself.
His death on the cross means life for the world!
And so the “word of the cross” in 1 Corinthians 1 is the Gospel! It is good news.
Jesus’ death on the cross was the sacrifice that brought salvation to the world.
I sometimes wonder, “Why a cross?”
I suppose it didn’t have to be a cross. But because it is, we have a symbol that is very simple. It takes just two pieces of material to construct. It is a symbol that can be made with your fingers, hands outstretched, or arms.
But at the same time, it is the most profound of symbols!
The cross tells us of the brutality of the death of Jesus. Which, when coupled with the proclamation of both Law and Gospel from Holy Scripture, tells us of the power of God’s justice and the depth of God’s love.
The empty cross tells us of the finality of death. Its emptiness tells us that Jesus did die but did not stay dead!
He was taken off the cross, put into a tomb, but three days later rose victoriously from the grave!
The cross also tells us of the transient nature of both the pain and the death of Jesus. It happened in a specific time period where crucifixion was prominent. His crucifixion happened for a specific period of time – six hours.
Yet while the symbol remains, its emptiness shouts to all that death is no longer here!
We can look to the cross and hear echoes of pain and death, but it also shouts to us that it is finished!
While the cross was once something to be feared two thousand years ago, today we can now sing with the hymn writer:
In the Cross of Christ I glory,
Towering o’er the wrecks of time.
All the light of sacred story
Gathers round its head sublime.
“In the Cross of Christ I Glory” by John Bowring, 1792-1872
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