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THE CROSS – What It Means to Me

July 25, 2012

The cross is our central Christian symbol. For me its meaning has changed over the years. I had understood the church’s long held explanation that it represented Jesus’ death as an expiation for the our human sins, the deep imperfections within our humanity despite our originally perfect creation by God at the beginning of time. I could never quite accept that “Jesus died for my sins.” I was disturbed by the idea that God would allow his own son to be killed. I understood the Jewish symbolism of the Yom Kippur lamb being sacrificed for the sins of the people. But I also came to recognize how most of the stories of Jesus as told in the Gospels are retellings of the Old Testament stories about Moses and Joshua and Elijah and Elisha, but those stories now being applied to Jesus. And this was interpreted to mean that Jesus was fulfilling many of the hopes that the Hebrews wrote about. Jesus is the new Moses, etc. That suggested very early for me that these stories were not to be understood literally.

More recently I have come to appreciate John’s Gospel as the writings of a mystic. It is an interpretation of Jesus that is full of symbolism and reflects how the early Christians of John’s time (about 100 AD) mystically experienced Jesus within their lives It has spoken to Christians in new ways throughout the centuries. Reading John now gives me a new way of looking at Jesus and of looking at myself.

For me, Jesus was first of all a human being living a human life at a particular time and place in history. But  in Jesus there was a fusion of the holy and the human that were as one.  His compassion, his love, his call for justice demonstrated and redefined what God is like. The disciples could only describe this as “God was in Jesus”.    And after Jesus’ death, Peter and then others experienced that same presence within themselves, a life-changing experience that they could only describe as Jesus’ presence now being totally alive within them.  It was God’s experienced presence. This presence gave a freedom to their lives, a purpose to their lives, and an understanding of God that transformed  their lives and changed our history. It is a presence that is within me, within all life, all creation. Awesome!

In our post-Darwinian world, we now know that humans were never created at a moment in time with a perfection that later degenerated to imperfection. Rather the gradual and steady evolution of all life has resulted – only recently in geological time – in our own species, homo sapiens, with so much of our life’s predecessors’ DNA within us – giving us our animal instincts of survival that also generate so much of the selfishness and suffering and evil in our world. Just look at how humans have treated other humans over the centuries and still do today! Yet Jesus shows us that we humans have a potential to move beyond our animal instincts, to become more fully human, to live with each other more humanely, in a new relationship with the holy. This is what Jesus envisaged as the “Kingdom of God.”

The cross to me is the symbol of Jesus’ sacrificial death. But it is more:  the empty cross  is the symbol of resurrection, that mystical release of Jesus’ love into the disciples’ lives after his death. It is the symbol of Jesus’ presence within me. It is a symbol of what my life can become. It is a symbol of sacrifice, a symbol of freedom, a symbol of service, a symbol of love. Jesus’ very suffering and death loosened his love to become a part of his disciples very beings, and then to others on through the generations, and even to me.

So the cross is still the signal symbol for me on my Christian path in life.

Loren Bullock
July 20, 2012,  revised October 23. 2012

From → Beliefs

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