Rev. Izzy Harbin
Matthew 28:1-10 : Resurrection Life - Ditch the Cross
Matthew 28:1-10, NRSVUE
28 After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And suddenly there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning and his clothing white as snow. 4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here, for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” 8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers and sisters to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
This afternoon I was leaving the church and pulled up beside an SUV that had a sticker on its back window that read “He is Risen” with “He is” on the top line, “Risen” on the bottom line, and a cross running right through the middle of it.
You might be thinking, sure, well, it is Easter and He is Risen is something we see a lot on signs, etc. Yes, that is correct, but here’s what I don’t get…
The cross is a symbol of death, of horrific pain, of suffering; why pair that with the slogan “He is Risen”? Jesus was not raised from the cross, he was raised from the dead.
Admittedly, there are times when I get hung up on little details such as this, but I happen to believe in this case, my angst is justified.
The cross as a symbol for the risen Christ has always seemed odd to me. Other symbols are, perhaps, more appropriate. The symbol for the Alpha and Omega or the beginning and the end is one, the anchor – widely used prior to the adoption of the cross – acting as a sign of hope and steadfastness, the angel meaning the messenger, the butterfly to represent change or transformation, the daisy as a symbol of chastity and humility, a descending dove present at Jesus’ baptism, the fleur-de-lis which represents the trinity, the Ichthys which directly denotes “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior” using the Greek alphabet, and the Tree of Life as a symbol of eternal life and healing. Any of these symbols work better than the cross for this resurrection moment.
Why does this matter? And more importantly, why am I taking an entire blog post to talk about something that seems rather trivial?
The cross, as a symbol, is a tool of the Roman Empire. This symbol wasn’t adopted until Constantine implemented the cross on military uniforms as a way to help him win an important battle. The cross has been used primarily as an instrument of torture. By elevating the cross, we are giving the cross more gravitas than it deserves. When we wear this symbol around our necks, it speaks volumes about what it is we choose to focus on in the world of Christianity – the suffering Christ.
It is not lost on me that in order for Jesus to be resurrected he had to first die, but it makes more sense to celebrate the life of Jesus; even his resurrected life, because that is what is most important.
Whether you believe in Jesus as just being a man, Jesus as the son of God or son of man, or that Jesus was God incarnate, it just makes no sense to focus on his death, this relatively short moment in Jesus’ life, when there is so much life to celebrate and emulate.
Transformation comes through imitating the life of Christ. Yes, we must die to self in the process, but letting go of those parts of us that are no longer serving us well is all part of the process of living…LIVING…a better life.
Resurrection was and is always possible. Nature reveals to us every spring how resilient it is. Life regenerates itself all the time. Humanity is no different other than the fact that the whole of our life cycle isn’t visible to us. When our physical bodies die, others don’t always witness our souls ascending back to God, nor do we see our souls being reborn. Likewise, there are thousands of what I call “ego deaths” that occur on a regular basis – moments where the selfish, self-centered parts of our being are removed from us and we become more Christ-like. This, too, is all a part of our resurrection story.
Ultimately, the cross is not a necessary part of Easter for me. I don’t need to see or experience the suffering Christ to appreciate the resurrected Christ. Life teaches me that suffering is a part of life. We all suffer. No one is ever immune. However, how we respond to our suffering determines whether we will continue to suffer or whether new life will emerge. When we choose new life, we are also choosing the path that Jesus, the Christ, chose. This is the path that determines how we show up in the world, and how we live and love within our respective communities.
May God bless you this Easter Sunday, and may you be attuned to the ongoing transformative and resurrection power of God’s love.