In the chapel where I worshipped as a child with my mum and sisters (dad usually came with us for the Sunday School Anniversary) there was not a Cross in sight – not a wooden one to be dusted, brass to be polished, stained glass to be carefully cleaned, or even an embroidered one on banner or pulpit fall to be expertly repaired by the church embroiderer. We were suspicious of symbols. We preferred plain and simple and a vase of flowers, and we thought that Jesus did as well.
As someone who now finds well ordered symbolism in worship helpful, Table, font, lectern, pulpit, serving to focus our attention respectively on our Communion and sharing in Christ, membership and commitment, the Bible, the preached Word, and yes, at the centre, the Cross, I am nevertheless aware with my childhood contemporaries all those years ago of the attendant dangers. At least, I note throughout two millennia and now evident again, the tendency for the Cross of Christ to be hijacked for purposes wholly hostile to its historical and living significance.
I am looking at a photograph of a large, illuminated cross being carried on a parade in Dresden in Germany in 2016. Attached to it is an image of travellers in what appear to be train trucks, a man, a woman, a child, and bearing the sentiment REFUGEES NOT WELCOME.
Very recently, again in Germany, the Premier of the State of Bavaria has ordered Christian crosses to be placed on the front of all public buildings to reinforce Bavarian cultural identity against an increase in numbers of Muslim asylum seekers fleeing from the horror of conflict in Syria and other countries.
Many leading Roman Catholic clergy however object to this move, one saying for instance, The cross is a genuine religious symbol and it should not be reduced to a folkloric object and regional custom, and someone who manufactures crosses declares, ...........For me the cross is a symbol of help and empathy. Those who hang it up should be prepared to fulfil the moral obligations associated with it – and I don’t see much evidence of that.
Amen! to that, and again I say, Amen!
I am with that Bavarian creator of Crosses, but even more, I am with the man who two thousand years ago started life as a refugee in Egypt with his mum and dad, who hung on the Cross, opening his arms in unconditional, loving welcome to all. Before that Cross I bow in awe, wonder and love. May I, any one of us, any person or people or nation looking to that Cross be worthy of it and the One who was nailed there, as they show the same expansive, generous welcome to all who come looking for refuge.
When people seeking sanctuary
come to this place and need our aid,
then in Christ’s name let’s offer care;
through this our debt of love is paid.
God’s grace is free, this grace receive,
let actions show what we believe.
(Andrew Pratt. StF 716)