By Peter Menkin
It is not so usual for someone in California, San Francisco’s Bay Area, New York City, Dallas, or almost any place in the United States to get in trouble for wearing the religious symbol of Christians, the Cross. The central symbol of Easter and the Christian religion, most people in the West know that Christ died on a cross. Most members of the public know that the cross is a terrible way to die, and most know that Christ died a horrible, miserable, painful, ignomious death on the cross. The cross is non-threatening, in its ironic way. Yet in England, wearing the cross is a threat--in its ironic way. It is the symbol of Easter, the cross.
Episcopalians in San Francisco’s Bay Area celebrate Easter, and all after the 40 days of Lent turn to their Church on Easter Sunday and find the cross displayed. What is this cross we have been asking at Easter; Christians must live with it and live it. They do so right here in their lives. They are to do this every day. This is the significant part of who they are in their lives and in the life of society. (Remember, and this writer will repeat the fact, Easter is a Sunday and a season in the Christian faith.)
In this report and commentary on the Easter sermon of Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, he tells us about the cross and Easter.
The cross is a universal symbol of martyrdom, the cross represents a way of life, and a faith, a major world religion. There is something unfair, wrong, a matter of
persecution, lies and life gone wrong in the story of Easter’s crucifixion of Christ. His trial was a mockery of justice, his trial was a series of false witnesses making accusations that led to His death on a cross. Misery!!
Where we learn of this Easter and its victory is in Church. We find Jesus Christ, the man of sorrows. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan William’s, who is spiritual leader for 77 million Anglicans worldwide in his Easter sermon talks about the cross in a Christian life. Have not all of us sorrows of some kind? Even the Archbishop of Canterbury with all the trouble in the Anglican Communion.
In England the cross is an unfavorable symbol, it is so because it represents a religion that has become controversial. As the newspaper “Telegraph” in Great Britain reports:
…[T]he case of Christian nurse Shirley Chaplin made headlines after she refused to remove a necklace bearing a crucifix, saying it would "violate her faith".
She is claiming discrimination against the Royal Devon and Exeter National Health Service Trust Hospital at an employment tribunal.
Rather than the symbol of mercy, succor, and aid, the same Christian symbol worn by Florence Nightingale, the cross is persona non grata. Hear what the Archbishop said at Canterbury Cathedral regarding the way of the cross Christians are asked to live and travel.
…[T]o explain both why you would be right to be afraid of the word of the
cross and why you need to hear the Risen Jesus saying, 'Don't be
afraid!' The human condition is more serious and more terribly damaged
than anyone wants to hear; but the resource of God's self-emptying love
is greater than we have words to express. We are to be judged by our
relation with the crucified; yet once we have accepted what that means,
we are also released and absolved. If that is indeed the promise of
the cross, it's well worth being obstinate about the freedom to show it
to the world - so long as we ourselves are ready to show it in lives
that look for Christ in the outcast, that examine their own failures in
truthfulness and that constantly seek to share forgiveness and hope.
In his Easter sermon, Archbishop Rowan Williams diminishes those who in their petty way as bureaucrats tell their employees that it is illegal to wear the cross; yet Christians find that as religious symbol the cross and the Christian life it symbolizes is a way of hope. Critical of the limitations of society in England, and the way of the world in general, the Archbishop’s words speak to a world of despair and trouble, of human suffering, and need for faith. This is a good message for Easter, for the spirit of Easter (He is risen!! He is risen indeed!!) is reflected in Rowan William’s message:
For Christians, making the cross invisible is dangerously close to making both ultimate tragedy and undefeated love invisible. If we fear what these petty bureaucratic assaults mean, it should not be because we fear for ourselves or our faith or our God, who is amply able to look after himself. It should be because we fear for a society that cannot cope with the realities of unspeakable human tragedy and cannot cope either with the hope of ultimate healing and reconciliation; a society that shrinks into its comfort zones when challenged.
Easter is a day in the life of the Christian, it is the most important holiday of the year, and it is a season in the Church year and in the year of the Christian. For the Benedictine, and for many Christians, Easter is a day, an idea, a way of life and hope that is yearned for and looked forward to throughout the year. Easter is a highpoint of Christian faith and religion.
Go forward with your faith, Christian, is the message offered in the Archbishop’s Easter sermon:
I don't imagine for a moment that much, if any, of this is going on in the mind of some hyper-conscientious administrative officer rebuking an employee for wearing a cross to work or even saying a prayer with a colleague. But perhaps we should take the opportunity of saying, 'This is what the cross actually means. If you want it to be invisible because it's too upsetting to people's security, I can well understand that; but let's have it out in the open. Is the God we see in the cross, the God who lives through and beyond terrible dereliction and death and still promises mercy, renewal, life - is that God too much of a menace to be mentioned or shown in the public life and the human interactions of society?'
This is not a petty consideration to be shaken by the cross. Rowan Williams suggests Christians do more than wear a cross. He says be shaken by the cross: “Christians may secretly be happier treating the cross just as a 'religious symbol' than letting ourselves be shaken and unmade and remade by it.”
There is much to think about in this Easter sermon. Let this writer in this report and commentary on the Archbishop’s sermon offer this quotation by Rowan Williams. It
is a good thought for the season of Easter.
…[W]e must learn to trust that love and justice are not defeated by our failure; that God has provided from his own strength and resourcefulness a way to freedom, once we have become able to recognize in the face of the suffering Jesus his own divine promise of mercy and life. The resurrection is the manifesting to the world of the triumph of a love that uses no coercion or manipulation but is simply itself – an indestructible love. The challenge of Easter is to believe that God is not defeated by the most extreme rejection imaginable.
Anglicans are an Easter people, as are all Christians an Easter people.
Images: (1) Christ on Cross at sunrise, by Henry Worthy, Obl Cam OSB, London; (2) Woman in morning before Holy Island, by Henry Worthy, Obl Cam OSB, London; Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, courtesy Archbishop's website.