The cross was something literal, something tangible on which Jesus was nailed, crucified. I imagine it was rough and splintered. Perhaps some of those splinters pressed into his flesh as he dragged the cross up to the hill called Golgotha outside of Jerusalem in Israel. He died on that wooden cross.
That first cross on which Jesus died, has been reinterpreted based on culture, time, and place. It has become symbolic. Constantine, a 4th Century Roman emperor who first institutionalized Christianity through government, used the Chi Rho symbol, a variation on the cross on the shields of his soldiers. The cross combined with the shield might have been seen as a dual defense, spiritual and physical, against enemies. Even though the Chi Rho doesn’t look much like a cross it represents the crucifixion of Jesus and Christ’s importance among Christians concerning forgiveness of sin. The lettering was of ancient Greek origin, a blending of Christianity as a religion in Greco-Roman culture. Throughout history, people created other variations on the cross including the Anglican Canterbury and Celtic crosses. In these and other variations, there was a syncretic overlay of cultural symbols with Christianity represented by the wooden cross on which Jesus sacrificed his life for humanity.
Fast forward to the twentieth century. Christians around the world continue to use the symbol of the cross as a reminder of Christ: “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.“(I John 2:2, Bible, New International Version)
Personally, I have a number of crosses. Two crosses are on my wall in my living room. One is of Mexican design with a flower painted on the cross. I purchased the other cross in New Orleans. I also have two pieces of jewelry fashioned in the shape of the cross. When I was a teen, my mother gave me a gold cross to wear on a chain around my neck. The second cross is silver: I purchased it at the St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter in New Orleans. The cross is based on a design used inside this Catholic church.
So for me the cross is many things: it is organic and symbolic: it reminds of my relationship with God and represents my faith. The cross is the incarnate–God is alive in my life–integrated in many cultures from Mexico to Africa. As a Christian African American woman, the cross reflects a long relationship with Christianity–some difficult as it was imposed and some uplifting as it was embraced. Whatever the arc, cultures have absorb Christianity creating many strands that remain sacred in living breathing, along with symbolic ways. And finally, the cross reminds of many places and experiences.
Ultimately, I don’t see crosses as decorative but as a reminder of Christ dying on the cross, affirming my relationship with Him.
What do you think?