March 8, 2015
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
I want to tell you a secret. A secret about Christianity that is shrouded in history.
And that changed the whole meaning of the cross and Lent and Easter. And even the purpose of Jesus coming among us.
Are you intrigued?
What will you see if you go into any Christian church in the world? What one thing will you see?
A cross. Various forms, various styles, various types of bodies or no bodies on them. But there will always be a cross. Somewhere.
In newer, more modern churches, those that have taken church out of their name and constructed auditoriums in place of sanctuaries, there was a deliberate movement to take the cross out of the worship space. The reasoning was that a cross is offensive to people who aren’t Christian. And they didn’t want to offend anyone.
These modern worship space planners are correct. the cross should be offensive. When we walk into a worship space and see a cross we should be offended, sad and horrified. The cross is a torture devise, a horrible torture devise. We have seen torture in graphic detail recently. This is what happened to people crucified on a cross.
I had an old professor who said that we should never put roses on the cross. And I agree with him to some extent. Because what he meant was that we shouldn’t ever forget or try to cover up what the cross is: a torture devise on which we killed the only perfect son of God. You can’t decorate that kind of death and horror.
What is interesting is that some of these modern worship spaces are starting to put crosses back in their spaces…
The cross is central to our practice of our faith.
But that isn’t the secret I want to tell you this morning.
The secret I want to tell you is this: until the time of Constantine, in the 4th century, the cross wasn’t the primary symbol of Christianity. Torture and death wasn’t seen as the way of honoring the Christ of Christianity. The Romans crucified lots and lots of people, so a cross wasn’t sacred or a symbol of the new movement.
As a matter of fact, a symbol wasn’t used in worship spaces for a long time. What was used to encourage worship and remember the reason for worhisp was scenes of creation. Specifically, scenes of paradise. Lions laying down with lambs, deer with their feet on mountain tops, babies playing over the holes of snakes. Rebecca Ann Parker who has studied these art works describe them as: “incredible mosaics in brilliant emerald greens, sapphire blues, and gold. They depict the same world you see outside the church—the same wildlife, the sandy beaches, the pine trees, the dolphins, the ducks, the pelicans—only more brilliant
Creation at it best and most harmonious.
No signs of violence whatsoever.
No symbols of violence whatsoever.
It wasn’t until the bloody wars of Constantine that symbols of death and violence entered the worship spaces of Christians.
That is the secret I want to share with you today.
Our Psalm today is exactly what ancient Christians looked toward as they tried to understand what the life, death and resurrection of Jesus meant for the world they lived in. A world that was filled with violence and death and horror. They didn’t need YouTube videos to see this violence and horror and death, it was right out side their doorways, they were personally threatened by it.
So they looked to their scritprues and found God and salvation thorugh words like:
How clearly the sky reveals God's glory!
How plainly it shows what God has done!
No speech or words are used,
no sound is heard; yet their message goes out to all the world
and is heard to the ends of the earth.
One important part of the Biblical vision of the world is that the world—this life—is good. And beautiful. and speaks clearly of God’s work in the world.
I was with a woman who shared an incredible story with me. She was at a Christian earth care conversation with me representing a secular environmental organization. First off, she was surprised by the passion this group of Christians had for the care of creation. Secondly, she was moved to share her story of spiritual awakening.
She was sure there was no greater power in the world. All she saw was matter and energy and finiteness. She cared about it all but saw or believed in nothing beyond what she could touch or see or experience.
Until one day she was laying in a field in the midst of a beautiful area of the world not unlike the Chosen Valley. I imagined her out at Kamnetz’s property near Cummingsville. Suddenly out of nowhere this self-avowed pagan had a spiritual awakening. She somehow knew that there was an Other. Something that was Beyond. and Caring Beyond. And made the rest of it all make sense.
this is the power the early Chrsitians were trying to capture in their use of paradise imagery.
The heavens are telling the glory of God, Day and night moving in and out of our lives tell of the care of the creator for the created ones, The sun, the sun comes to us like a happy bridegroom, like an athlete ready to run her race.
In this we see, experience and know the glory of God and the love of God.
In this we see, experience and know the saving grace of God.
So, with all due respect to my former teacher, I would say to us, let us cover the cross with flowers, roses, morning glories, trumpet vines, all sorts of vining plants, growing up and over and around, covering all the blood and gore and signs of violence.
Let us cover this symbol of violence with the glory of God’s creation.
To proclaim to the world, death is swallowed up in the victory of the promise of Spring and the promise of new birth and the promise of daily resurrection.
to proclaim to the world that violence is not going to win. That destruction is not the final outcome. That God’s glory God’s salvation is seen through the joy of this earth.
As you live this week in sacred conversation with God I hope you experience salvation as the experience of seeing the whole of creation interfused, or transfused, with the beauty of God's presence. (Parker)
This is the promise we hear in the Psalm. This is the promise of the cross. This is the promise of resurrection.