I recently added some new cookie cutters to my collection. I got a pig, a llama, a hand with a heart in it, and a Russian Orthodox cross. With Pascha coming up, I thought I'd make a batch of cookies to drop off for the celebration feast my friends will be having. However, as I look at this lovely little tool I got to wondering. Why do most other Christians focus so much upon the cross as a Holy symbol of faith?
My own faith does not use crosses of any kind. They do not appear on our churches, our books, our artwork, and typically are not worn as jewelry. To us, crosses are a symbol of Christ's death and we prefer to focus on the fact that He lives.
Christ's sacrifice on Calvary was critical. But it was what He did at Gethsemane that means ever so much more.
I've sometimes wondered if He had been born and died at a different time and place would Christ's death cause any instrument to be viewed as holy? If he had been shot by a firing squad would there be golden guns atop churches or if by gas chamber would there be little icons of that on chains about people's necks? I don't say this to be blasphemous or disrespectful to what others hold to be Holy. I sincerely wonder. Why is it the cross that so many Christians focus on? Thousands of people died by crucifixion. Jesus Christ did not. YES, he suffered tremendous anguish hanging on that tree for all of us. But He was not murdered. He gave up the ghost willingly. To me, the cross was an implement of torture, but it was no more holy than the post he was tied to earlier when he was beaten and scourged with a whip.
I will continue to be as respectful as possible of the things others hold to be sacred - whether it be crosses or icons or some other thing.
However, the thing that matters most to me is not the manner in which Christ died...what captures my heart and soul is that he CHOSE to endure the humiliation and agony of all he went through even though He KNEW how many of us would ignore His teachings. Despite the fact He KNEW how many of us would live self indulgent lives completely disregarding His atonement and love, Christ still cared enough to suffer beyond comprehension to break the bands of death. That is so incomprehensible to me.
Throughout this long Lenten season I've been giving thought to issues of repentance and religiosity and trying to make sense of where it fits in my own heart. Some say if you accept Christ as your personal savior that's all one needs to do. Others invoke long lists of do this and don't do that commandments which must be obeyed to the letter in order to live in the presence of God. I fall somewhere in the middle. I believe there is NOTHING I can do to "earn" my way into Heaven. I am not capable of it, no matter how "righteous" I might discipline my life to be. Still, I hold firm to the scripture that says: "if ye love me, keep my commandments." I DO think that once I have accepted the deity of Christ I am bound to do my very best to follow His example, the whole while acknowledging my state as a sinner who is lost without His grace.
The thing that I keep coming back to is that we are weak, imperfect and prone to passions BY DESIGN. Our susceptibility to temptation is no mistake. It is the nature of our creation. Had God wanted to create beings made of different character, I believe He well could have. Yet He did not. He deliberately created us as we are. Soft. Vulnerable. Subject to all manner of mayhem. I often wonder about that.
God is the ruler of the universe, the elements, and of every single thing in the material world. There's just one thing that He does not control: our will. He gave us that as a precious gift to do with as we choose. We can turn our hearts to Christ or our back to Him. That is up to us. He will invite. But He will NEVER coerce us to do His bidding. We each choose every minute of every day whether we will listen to the sweet whisperings of the Holy Spirit or the clamour of the material world. We choose.
Yet I'm coming to realize more and more that it is NOT in church services that I predominately make this decision. It is in how I treat my next door neighbor or my obnoxious relative or the homeless person on the street. Those are the moments when I really choose. I rely on the sacred sacrament to serve as a symbol of my renewed covenants with my creator. But it is between times that I show whether I really meant it or not when I said "Amen" at then end of the prayers blessing the bread and water that symbolize His body and blood.
As we approach Easter Sunday / Pascha I am trying with all my might to make sense of where I am personally in my own understanding of the nature of God and my relationship to Him. I am trying to quiet the clamour and din of the large and spacious building of the world that attempts to seduce us all with physical pleasure, worldly esteem, and "success" in the eyes of men. I am trying to go quiet inside to remember who I am as a child of God and to make sense of whatever plan it is He has for me. I am trying to learn to recognize more consistently the promptings of the Holy Spirit and be able to separate those feelings out from my own desires.
I may not have any crosses in my house other than the one in my cookie cutter jar. But I still know that the events that happened all those years ago on a cross at Calvary were real and that the importance carries on to this day.
It's been a long lent. I hunger for the rejoicing of "Christ is Risen." Yet I don't want to rush it either. These last few days...I still have things to learn and to experience.
I'll think of that as I bake and decorate the cookies. I'll think of that as I kneel in prayer. I'll think of that as I re-listen to conference talks over the Internet (LOVED the parable of the pickle!) I'll think of that as I have choices to make in how I treat my neighbor (and my neighbor's barky dog) and my relatives, family and friends.
There is so much about this journey to salvation that I do not understand. My whole heart resonates with the scripture that says:
"Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend. " (Mosiah 4:9)
Yeah, that pretty much sums it up for me.