Symbolism of the Cross

Symbolism of the Cross

The risen Lord transforms our negatives.

Last year I visited my friend Shashi Kumar in Mangalore, India.

Shashi had lost his eldest son, Sachin, to leukaemia.

One evening we sat on the seashore, the warm sand between our toes, and watched the sun set over the Arabian Sea.

Through the silence that was only broken by the occasional thump of the waves breaking on the shore, Shashi whispered his heartbreak, “Why?”

I don’t think he will ever stop asking God, “Why?”

I don’t have any answers to that question. Jesus didn’t either. Instead, when he was confronted by Martha’s “Why?” at the death of her brother Lazarus, Jesus introduced a contradictory idea. “I am the resurrection and the life.”

Up at 5 am, we were walking together along the river bank. In the unbroken darkness, the river was still, reflecting streetlights and trees’ silhouettes.

“How would you explain the symbolism of the cross?” he questioned.

I began by talking about God’s love and forgiveness.

“No, no Graham, you’re answering from what you believe: your faith. I asked you what it symbolises.”

We walked in silence. I tried again.

“You still answer from the point of view of your faith. Some time I will tell you.”

That time came days later at a hospital chapel in the campus of a famous Catholic hospital.

There were only two other people in the octagonal-shaped building. All eight walls were glass, giving uninterrupted vistas of the surrounding city and suburbs. Above the windows were panels of coloured glass and behind the altar was a large wooden cross.

We sat together near the back of the chapel and spoke in whispers that thundered in the silence.

“Tell me now what that cross symbolises,” I whispered.

“Not in here. We’ll disturb others who are praying.”

We crept out through the door into the glassed-in walkway and sat on low benches.

“What is the cross made of?”

“A horizontal piece of wood and a vertical piece.”

“You are correct. Mathematically, what does the horizontal piece represent?”

Suddenly, Shashi was taking me into uncharted territory.

“Well I suppose … it’s a minus sign.”

“Correct again.”

“The cross piece is negative and symbolises our lives — every bit of them. The happy and sad, successes and the failures, and the mixture of life’s experiences.”

“And the vertical piece of wood?” he continued.

“That must be God’s action in helping us with the problems in our lives.”

“You are correct again, Graham. But what happens if God’s coming intersects the negative line of our confused lives?”

“Well that’s pretty obvious, Shashi. Mathematically our minus becomes a plus.”

“Definitely. Our lives become positive if we invite God into every part of our lives.

“The trouble is, we would rather try to solve all our problems on our own and keep God at arm’s length. The cross gives us the clue to living every part of life positively.”

Shashi was teaching me that our cross will always remain a symbol unless I invite Jesus into every part of my life.

Perhaps this Easter I’ll let my risen Lord intersect all my negatives and transform them into life in all its fullness.

What about you?

Have a positive Easter.

 Graham Nicholls is a Uniting Church minister. 

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