Here is my article published in the March 17, 2016 Camrose Canadian Clergy Comment column.
Lent and meanings of the cross
The most prominent symbol of the Lenten season is the cross. The English word symbol comes from two Greek words meaning, “to throw together.” When one reflects on that, a light bulb comes on.
For example, a cross consists of two pieces of material coming together—one vertical, and one horizontal. The vertical portion of the cross, of course, symbolizes our relationship with God. It is a reminder that God, through the person of Jesus, came to grace us with a relationship of unconditional love. This relationship is only possible through God’s initiative, not through anything we have to offer, or are, in and of ourselves.
The horizontal portion of the cross symbolizes our relationships with others as together we journey in faith in response to what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross; we are called into a life of loving our neighbours. Love comes alive and is made known through serving our neighbours.
The cross symbolizes a “throwing together” of the least likely people. For example, in Jesus’ public ministry, he associated with and called such diverse people as: a Samaritan woman, who engaged in the longest recorded theological conversation with Jesus in all the gospels; Zacchaeus who was a wealthy tax collector and likely despised by his fellow Jewish citizens; and the list goes on, the point being that Jesus’ ministry was an inclusive one; all were welcome. The cross therefore symbolizes a “throwing together” of people from every background in the church.
However, the cross also symbolizes a “throwing together” of all that is in opposition to God and God’s purposes: evil and sin manifested through lies, hatred, injustice, violence, suffering and death. All of these opponents of God and God’s purposes “thrown together” crucified Jesus. Jesus continues to suffer and be crucified through the multiple sufferings and cruel, senseless deaths of far too many human beings today.
Yet, in a deeply mysterious and profoundly powerful way, the cross symbolizes God’s reversal of reality whenever evil and sin are overcome with love and forgiveness; suffering and death are transformed into new, resurrection life; and failure and defeat turn into success and victory. It’s happening all around us as God’s realm continues to increase here and around the globe whenever: the hungry are fed; the thirsty are given a drink; the stranger is welcomed; the naked are clothed; and the sick and imprisoned are visited.