THINKING ANGLICANS

The empty cross

Some years ago I was attending a Church of Ireland service in a country town on Good Friday. The service was long and, for me, without any particular focus. Yes, there was a rather mechanistic reading of the Passion, but the rest of it was just Morning Prayer. The congregation was tiny, my own presence accounted for a double figure percentage. And the theme of the sermon (curiously in my view, given the day that was in it) was ‘the empty cross’. The clergyman was of the view that the use of the crucifix was unscriptural, in that ‘the point of Good Friday was the empty cross at Easter’ (I think I have remembered his phrase precisely).

I remembered all that this year when, on the radio, I heard another Irish Anglican clergyman make a similar point about the crucifix, but he also added a more general comment about the cross: he didn’t like it at all. Not terribly original of course: a number of commentators have argued that the Cross as a symbol may be turning off potential new members of the church, that it may be a rather garish and cruel instrument and may, as some have suggested, ‘carry too much baggage’. This kind of approach was lampooned back in the 1980s by the satirical puppet show on Channel 4 television, Spitting Image; they had the then Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, deciding to drop the Cross as the Christian symbol in favour of the Tambourine.

For me, there is something important about the edginess of the Cross, with the Corpus of Our Lord. Yes, it is dramatic and in-your-face, but maybe that is a welcome antidote to the growing blandness of religion, and in particular of religiosity. Yes, it has ‘baggage’, but then again that’s what Christianity has. The Cross is not supposed to convey an empty message, but a message of hope that has meaning because of what it is set against. It is not a message for a vanilla world.

So even in this Easter season our Cross is not empty. What happened has not been reversed, it has been brought to its full conclusion.

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William Moorhead
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“For me, there is something important about the edginess of the Cross, with the Corpus of Our Lord. Yes, it is dramatic and in-your-face, but maybe that is a welcome antidote to the growing blandness of religion, and in particular of religiosity. Yes, it has ‘baggage’, but then again that’s what Christianity has. The Cross is not supposed to convey an empty message, but a message of hope that has meaning because of what it is set against. It is not a message for a vanilla world.” Exactly so, Ferdinand — excellently said. 1 Corinthians 1. To quote you again:… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
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Father Ron Smith

Thank you, Ferdinand, for your reflection on the need for the Cross at the heart of our religion. Also, if the Cross had not borne the figure of the Christ, it might not have had the tremendous significance it bears for many of us.

This is where the ikon of the ‘Christus Rex’ can give us some insight into what the story of the Cross needs for its completion – that journey from death to life, which Jesus has gained for all of us who look to him for salvation.
Christus Vincit!
Christ is Risen, Alleluia. He is Risen indeed, Alleluia, Alleluia!

Rev L Roberts
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Rev L Roberts

Notwithstanding this article and comments on certain approaches to the cross in Christianity, it does not follow that actual physical crosses (with or without a corpus)are needed or edifying for all people’s spiritualities. And this includes the gesture of ‘the sign of the Cross’. It IS an equivalent of the noose or guillotine. Also some forms of devotion which work in private may work differently in public settings of various kinds, not everyone wishes to be confronted by such imagery. Or for our children to have to. There is an open question yet to be answered about the sadistic and… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
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Father Ron Smith

“Believers can be quite thoughtless or selfish in insisting upon having some of these outward signs. With detriment to witness and mission. Rev.L.R. – I find your comment here a little sad – and not a little cynical; when symbols, such as the signing of one’s self with the Cross, have been a part of orthodox Christianity for many centuries of the Churches of both East and West. To sign one’s self with the Cross at the holy water stoup on entering or leaving the church, for instance, can be a reminder of one’s incorporation into the dying and rising… Read more »

BillyD
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“With detriment to witness and mission.”

I suppose that it all depends on what/who we’re bearing witness to and undergoing mission for. I cannot see that the Cross – plain, with corpus, one-barred, two-barred, three-barred, painted icon style, traced on our bodies right to left or left to right, or even neon-tubed – deters from a witness to the One who was crucified on it.

Rev L R
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Rev L R

Fr Ron Beleive me I am not being cynical, but nor must I, or any of us be naive. Yes, but our treasured symbols especially the Cross can be a real stumbling block or bring fear to Jews, Muslims,and those who suffered under the Inquistion and others. I was shocked and sorry when this gradually dawned upon me-both for what we had done to others down the centuries and for my own loss of a loved symbol that could never be the same again for me. – Innocence lost. We may sometimes be called upon to forgo such things for… Read more »

BillyD
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“BillyD please read what I wrote. It is an offence to many.” Don’t look now, but if you do a little reading yourself – say, of the New Testament – you’ll see that it has always been a shocking, even offensive, symbol. It’s supposed to be. Christ wasn’t crucified between two candles during Solemn Evensong. The problem is not that it is an offense to anyone, but that it has become a bland, inoffensive symbol “of blessing or comfort” for Christians. “It makes others tremble. The Jews of europe dreaded Easter from the middle ages on, because of the accompanying… Read more »

Erika Baker
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Erika Baker

Billy D “Don’t look now, but if you do a little reading yourself – say, of the New Testament – you’ll see that it has always been a shocking, even offensive, symbol.” The cross was a torture instruments which Christians subverted into a symbol of life over death, hope, love and living in peace with one another. We then subverted it again to signify what it originally did – not the Christian acceptance of death as part of what it means to follow Christ, but Christians becoming the bringers of torture and death. Quite the opposite of what it stands… Read more »

Ford Elms
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Ford Elms

“The Jews of europe dreaded Easter from the middle ages on, because of the accompanying pogroms. This is appallling.” I can’t make the connection between the horrendous behaviour of Christians towards Jews and the idea that we somehow have to do away with the Cross. Surely it is any remnant of our antiSemitism that should be gotten rid of, if any still exists, though I doubt there’s much left of it in Western Christianity. Getting rid of or covering up one of our deepest most complex symbols can do nothing to expunge our antiSemitism, and might just make it easier… Read more »

paul
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paul

The late American comedian Bill Hicks usually had organised religion high on his list of targets and one of his pronouncements was to ask this of our saving sign, “If Christ is to return again, do you really think he wants to see another cross!!” I posed this question in one of our evening church get-togethers and the overwhelming response was, “mmm, …I hadn’t thought of it like that?” As rev. L.R. candidly points out, the symbol of our faith is an instrument of torture. How would we feel if tomorrow a new faith arose whose places of worship were… Read more »

BenWeisz
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BenWeisz

I find the vastly deep and complex religious symbology of our faith fascinating. Additionally, it must be remembered, as several of the above comments have pointed out, that iconography like the crucifix and ritual like genuflection play a hugely important role within people’s faith, often providing the glue that allows their faith to carry them through difficult periods in their lives. I think it’s nevertheless worth pointing out a potential danger which must be avoided. Quite apart from causing offence or distress, many of our symbols and rituals run the risk of becoming ’empty,’ like the crucifix of the sermon… Read more »