I’ve heard people remark how odd it is that we wear crosses. Someone once said, ‘Well, would we wear a necklace of an electric chair?’ And they’re not wrong. There’s something that feels especially discordant about wearing a filigree cross while reading the Bible, because there’s nothing delicate and ornamental about the rock upon which Christ died. It is, in fact, rock – and when we see it, we reckon with how the earth God made for us, and gave to us, became earth filled with violence and pain.
I know why we bear the cross. The same scripture that tells us the story of the rock proclaims that to follow the man who died upon it, we must carry that same rock, showing it forth in our lives through the different ways life invites us to bear it.
So then, it matters that we, as Christians, bear crosses in our lives, regardless of our jewelry, but not for ornamental purposes— but because of how the cross actually offers us hope. No, I wouldn’t wear an electric chair on a necklace, but that’s because the end of that story is a story of sadness and pain, of death, of ending, of prayer for abolition. And the story of the cross, the rock upon which Christ died, is a story that gives us hope that sadness and pain are not the sum of our lives, that our body’s final breath does not have the final say, that in death life is changed, not ended. To bear the cross is to believe swords might actually become plowshares, because the cross of death became our sign of life.
I won’t speak for you, but I’ve felt especially burdened by how our earth, given to us for our joy by a God of eternal love, has become an earth filled with violence and pain. If it’s not stories of corruption, murder, racism, or financial injustice, it’s stories of natural disasters popping up so quickly I can barely keep track of who I’m praying for. Then add in the very personal pains we carry day in and day out, the mere reality of being alive.
The power of bearing our cross, of showing it forth in our lives through the ways we are invited to bear it, means showing forth a word of hope, because the cross we celebrate today is just that: an ultimate proclamation of hope. By bearing it, we can show hope to others and we can remember hope for ourselves. When we see the cross, we are invited to remember not just the pain of the cross, but to remember our God who has vowed to love us to the end. Our God who vowed to love us to an end not defined by the powers and principalities of this world, not even defined by the death we know awaits us.
Instead, because we believe in a faith of paradox, the hope of the cross means we are gathered into an end that is defined by eternity. Our inevitable end delivers us only into a deeper life, a fuller existence. In a way, the filigree cross might depict it more truthfully than any other, because it shows us an instrument of death transformed into beauty. And what is the cross of Christ, if not an instrument of death transformed into beauty?
The way we bear our cross is as unique to us as our fingerprints, a lifelong discernment. If we are looking to find our way, our specific call to carrying, we might journey toward the place, as Frederick Buechner famously stated, ‘where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.’ May we, as we discern how we will bear our cross, be ever mindful of the rock upon which Christ died, but without forgetting the filigree of grace. Because what is the cross of Christ, if not an instrument of death transformed into beauty?