There’s a little icon on my desktop that represents a trash can. A real trash can would be showing its age by now, but my icon always looks exactly the same. It never gets filthy, never dents, never smells, and the lid always closes no matter how much “trash” is inside. The icon represents a trash can, but a real trash can isn’t pretty. So it is with the cross.
We wear crosses of gold and silver about the neck, carve them into our church pews, paint them in our artwork and place them above our church buildings. As an icon, the cross represents Christianity. But our images have no splinters, rusty nails, nor do they drip with the blood of the slain. The image of the cross is meant to remind us that the broken body of Christ was hung on the tree. Our communion wafers are perfect little squares, and the wine/juice tastes sweet, but the body of the Lord was broken and his blood poured out. Flesh was ripped away by the whip. Blood and sweat mingled and dripped to the ground. The air was ripe with the smell of blood and the stench of death. The cross was an instrument of torture and execution.
I’m not suggesting we do away with the symbols. It is our nature to forget, and we must be reminded of what God has done. Rainbows actually are beautiful, but they remind us of mercy in the face of judgment. Baptism represents death of the old man and rebirth of the new. Passover reminded the Jews of what God had done for them, just as communion does for us today. Our hope is in the resurrection, made possible by the crucifixion. We must remember what God has done. But remember as well… it wasn’t pretty.