Would you wear a golden model of a guillotine around your neck? How about a noose, a gas chamber or an electric chair? An iron maiden? Thumbscrews?
I sure wouldn’t.
But every day, I put a beautiful, little instrument of torture and execution on a nice, gold chain and hang it around my neck.
A device so hideous and savage that the Romans reserved it only for those guilty of the most heinous crimes. According to some Internet ‘experts,’ the Romans eventually banned crucifixion entirely, deeming it too barbaric for anybody (although Wikipedia says Emperor Constantine abolished the practice out of veneration for Jesus).
Either way, it’s more than a bit odd that people wear jewelry modeled after an object whose function was to slowly, painfully and publicly torture, degrade and ultimately, execute people.
But I – and most Christians, I assume – don’t wear the cross because of what it was used to do to humans, but because of what humans used it to do to God, and what God then used it to do for humans.
This instrument of torture and execution became an instrument of salvation and redemption – and in the process even became an example of redemption, as the symbol of despair and oppression was transformed into a symbol of hope and emancipation.
Christians put crosses on the tops of their churches; we put them inside our churches; we put them on our letterheads and pamphlets; some of us even get crosses tattooed into our flesh. It begins to border on clutter, saturation and maybe even overkill.
And yet, no matter how accustomed we get to seeing these perpendicular, intersecting line segments, the potency of the symbol remains undiluted. It never becomes hum-drum.
I wear my crucifix to declare to everyone I come in contact with that I belong to Christ. My cross even has a little Jesus on it – despite the Roman Catholic overtones – because I don’t want people to mistake the jewelry for mere decoration.
There’s a danger to that, of course.
We cross-wearers can’t let the jewelry do all the work. If we rely on a hunk of metal to tell people we’re Christians, are we really being Christians? There’s no song that says ‘They’ll know we are Christians by our bling, by our bling…’ after all.
If we’re doing things right, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.
Applying this informal mission statement is relatively simple (although not always easy) in the significant relationships in our lives – Jesus engaged in evangelism through relationship, and I think we’re called to do the same.
But what about the people we only interact with for a few seconds, and then never meet again? Kindness, humility and generosity are not exclusive to Christianity. Plenty of people with all sorts of faith backgrounds – including atheists – are loving, compassionate and courteous. How can we expect the strangers we interact with at the grocery store, the schoolyard or on the C-Train to connect our actions with Jesus?
My hope is that when I do something nice for someone, they’ll be wowed, and say ‘What a great guy! I wonder why he’s so friendly, courteous and cheerful.’ Then the cross around my neck will catch their eye, and they’ll say, ‘Ah. Interesting …’
Now, I’m far from perfect, and sometimes I slip up and do or say something inconsiderate or stupid – and that sends the opposite message about Christians and maybe even Christ. But hopefully my awareness of the little, gold billboard around my neck helps remind me to try to do what Jesus would do – even when it doesn’t come naturally.
And with God’s help, I think (hope?) my slip-ups are getting fewer and further between, and I’m growing to become part of the solution almost as often as I’m part of the problem.
Peace be with you.