It would have been unbearable for the Early Christians to adorn their homes, houses of worship or their pecs with the image of a cross. Public executions, including crucifixions, were all too common and grotesque to be used as decoration. A simple image of a fish on a door or lintel was all that was necessary to indicate to a traveling follower of the Way that this place was a place where Christians were welcomed.
Yet for us today the cross has become a symbol of hope. We feel comforted by the image of a cross. It has been transformed from a tool of torture and the power of the state, to a symbol of the transforming power of God’s love.
One of the over 700 hymns that Isaac Watts wrote was, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” It was published in 1707 and remains popular today. Watts writes in the hymn of what happened there, upon that cross, “where the young Prince of Glory died.” He writes of the great irony of the cross, where “such love and sorrow meet.” And that this powerful tool of death has been transformed into an even more powerful symbol of love, “love so amazing, so divine.”
As Jesus was denied food, water, shelter, and friends for forty days in the wilderness we will often use the season of Lent to deny ourselves some of the pleasures of life. For example, in Church, we will deny ourselves the singing of “alleluias.” And we veil the cross the sits at the front of St. Paul’s Church, above the altar for the same reason, denying ourselves (temporarily) the joy of surveying “the wondrous cross.”
On Easter morning, we will gather for worship with the cross unveiled and singing as many “alleluias” as humanly possible, because what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross, “demands my soul, my life, my all.”