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The Cross – thoughts for Holy week.
Take a pencil and paper and make a cross shape. Where the two lines meet at the crossing point draw a circle. You have drawn a simple Celtic cross. It is this symbol that explains to me the crucifixion. You see I can’t relate to a God that would require the sacrifice of his son to appease his anger, I can’t accept the idea that love would do such a thing. But this is one of the theories of atonement that we are all taught and was particularly favoured for centuries, we still see it in phrases like ‘saved by the blood of Christ’ and even ‘Christ died for our sins’ This kind of theology is fine if you are intent on controlling illiterate peasants but its neither true or appropriate today.
Look again at your image of the cross. The Celts never adopted this theory of Jesus crucifixion. When they made crosses, they saw the centre of the cross as a vibrant symbol of life. They circled the cross point to emphasise the most important place on the cross, the place where the two lines meet. For them the horizontal line is the world of matter, of creation, of you and me and all living things and the vertical line is the divine presence of God plunging in and through it all. The circle, the symbol of Oneness shows that there is no separation between matter and spirit, it is One.
For me this is not just a nice theory, it was a real and visceral experience that I had one quiet evening many years ago. An experience that came completely unbidden and changed my whole understanding of Jesus story.
It was New Year’s Eve. I had promised myself a quiet evening, without disturbance or the demands of celebration. The younger children were in bed and the older two out with friends. I settled down with a book and drank in the peace.
It had been a difficult afternoon. I had met with my estranged husband who two years previously had left our eighteen-year marriage, leaving me five months pregnant with our fourth child. Over the last two years we had made several attempts at reconciliation, but none of them were successful. That afternoon he had made one last gesture and we met for coffee together in the city centre. I knew I had to make the final decision and I bade him a last farewell. As I left the café, I held my breath and waited for the usual waves of guilt and sadness to consume me. I took refuge in the bookshop and hurriedly bought a book to bury myself in.
Now, back at home, I settled on the sofa in the peace and familiarity of my living room. Through the window snow had begun to fall in large soft flakes, gently blanketing the ground and dampening the sounds of party goers. I had been searching for a long time for meaning, for a way to overcome fear. I had explored religion and chosen the Christian way. I loved the values of Jesus of Nazareth, his compassion for the wounded his love for humanity. I treasured his companionship in my search for the divine. I had become a member of the Anglican Church and trained as a Reader, a lay person who preaches and takes services. I knew I was on a journey and for me a pathway had been laid by the wisdom and writings of those who had travelled further on than I, so with my book in hand I settled into the night and began to read. I was a few chapters in when I read the words ‘there is no separation’ and my life changed forever.
The intensity of what happened next is difficult to put into words, but suddenly I could see. I could really see and feel a deep intensity of love and pulsating light dancing in joy through every fibre of my being, moving in me and through me in wave after joyous wave. As I Iooked around every object in the room, every molecule of matter was filled with this same intensity of dynamic love and pure light. Over and over the only words in my mind were ‘There is no separation”, ‘there is nothing to fear’.
This state remained with me for several weeks. As I led services in Church a broad smile continually on my face, I could see secreted in the liturgy this wonderful truth. When I read the scriptures, I could hear Jesus speaking of just what I was experiencing. Every morning I awoke, thinking that this experience had passed, but there it was, still joyously ushering me into every new moment.
This was what Jesus was trying to show the people of his time. Not that they were sinful, bad people who needed to clean up their act but that they were full of Living presence, filled with the light of God and precious beyond their understanding.
But the powerful saw him only through their fear and believed he was threatening their security and power to oppress. He threatened their politics so they killed him.
And we are left with the image of Jesus dying on a cross. A symbol of Gods willingness to be so at one with matter, with creation that the divine presence suffers all of humanities sufferings with us, form our smallest fears to our biggest atrocities, continually forgiving us because ‘we know not what we do’.
All that is asked of us is that we grow to see that whatever we do to the least of us we do to the Christ, the creative love of God and to ourselves.
This Holy week, look at the cross you have drawn, let it speak to you of the Oneness of spirit and matter of Gods living presence and your own being. And ask to see, to really see that presence in you.
Love grace and peace