Isn’t it interesting the way so many people choose to wear a symbol of torturous execution as an adornment around their neck. Some go a step further and have this emblem stuck to their bumpers, hung on their wall, tattooed on their skin.
The cross is a timeless fashion accessory.
I wonder why the gallows and the guillotine didn’t take off in the same way for the interior design and fashion industry. I’ve yet to see someone sporting a lethal injection tattoo, a cat o’ nine tails artwork above their mantelpiece or an electric chair (in miniature) hanging from a chain around their neck.
That would be macabre, in poor taste – gothic at best. Why then, do we make an exception for the cross?
Roman crucifixion, the method used for Jesus’ execution, was incredibly painful, hence the term ‘excruciating’. Warning: if you’re sensitive around the topics of violence, mutilation and torture, I’d suggest you skip the next few paragraphs.
Crucifixion was saved for the worst kinds of criminals. The criminal usually carried his cross to the place of execution outside of the city. Roman guards tormented the criminal along the way, using a whip called a flagrum or scourge made from leather straps with pieces of bone and metal attached to their ends. The criminal’s flesh on his back was ripped to the bone from the flogging.
Once at the crucifixion site, the criminal was stripped of his clothes and nailed or bound to the cross by his hands and feet.
The predominant cause of death by Roman crucifixion was asphyxiation. With arms splayed, there was enormous strain on the wrists, arms and shoulders, which often resulted in the dislocation of the shoulder and elbow joints. You can imagine the pain inflicted when the criminal tried to raise his chest to inhale and exhale. He would try to push up with his feet to allow the lungs to inflate. Every movement was agonising.
It took hours and up to days for people to die by crucifixion, with other causes of death including shock, dehydration, starvation and exhaustion.
So why, over time, has the cross become popularised in a way that no other method of human execution has ever been celebrated?
Easter Sunday is why.
Yesterday most of you guzzled chocolate eggs or bunnies and chomped into hot-cross buns. Some of you also acknowledged the one man who could turn a symbol of death and pain into a symbol of hope.
After just the sort of death I have described – a Roman crucifixion – Jesus was buried in a guarded tomb. A few days later he was spotted alive, sporting the scars of his death. Dead, then alive. Tortured cruelly for no offense other than owning up to his true identity. A bodily death followed by a supernatural resurrection.
And it was all done for us.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
He died so that we could live with a hope and purpose, a reassurance that our time here is not futile.
What do we need to do?
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25)
Jesus wasn’t talking about fashion accessories – he wasn’t saying, “Wear a cross ‘round your neck and you’ll be apples!” He was talking about genuine life change.
That symbol of the cross, however it’s worn or displayed, is a reminder that Jesus, through his death, provided a way for restored relationship with his, and our, Heavenly Father.
If we just believe.
First published in The Examiner Newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday April 21, 2014.