At the heart of Christianity the world over are the cross (which is bare) and the crucifix (which is the cross with the body of Jesus affixed to it). Both symbolize and signify the redemptive action of Jesus Christ, each in its own particular way.
A cross or crucifix hangs around the neck of countless people in our world who give no other outward sign of being religious. Teachers of young children report that when they offer the youngsters a selection of holy cards and ask them to choose one, time and again children choose the picture of Jesus on the cross.
Why are the cross and crucifix so important, and so central? Why, after two thousand years, has the cross (either bare or with the body of Jesus upon it) lost none of its fascination and power?
The best answer is also the simplest. The cross and crucifix are a depiction of how much God loves us; they are a revelation of how much he has always loved us and desired a relationship with us.
Two books from the Bible, 2 Chronicles 36:14-23 and Ephesians 2:4-10 set the stage for this revelation. First, we hear about the constant transgressions of God’s people,a nd yet God never stopped loving them, even in his discipline of a 70-year exile (tough love indeed).
Paul reaffirms this as he says “God, who rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ.” As we hear in the Gospel of John 3:14-21 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in Him might have eternal life.”
This is more than a catchphrase held up on poster-board for TV cameras at sporting events. It is the sum and summary of our salvation history. Through Jesus Christ, all of our transgressions before God are washed away in God’s mercy. Sin and death are overcome through his sacrifice of love on the cross.
The cross means something. The crosses and crucifixes that adorn our necks and sanctuaries depict how much God loves us.
So as we continue in this Lenten Season, perhaps we can spend some time thinking about that. And in doing so, we might also reflect on what, in our own lives, demonstrates how much we love God in return.