The cross is used everywhere as a symbol for both Easter and for Christianity itself. The poem on a card which I carry in my wallet opens in this way:
I carry a cross in my pocket
A simple reminder to me
Of the fact that I am a Christian
No matter where I may be.
The great apostle Paul would certainly agree with the cross’s being a suitable symbol for Christianity, his describing the “word of the cross” as “the power of God” in 1 Corinthians 1:18.
However, recently I read somewhere (I can’t remember where) that an even better symbol for both Easter and Christianity would be the empty tomb. The cross is a reminder of Jesus’ death; the empty tomb is a reminder of his resurrection. The former brought grief to Jesus’ disciples; the latter brought them joy. Jesus himself referred to this while talking with his disciples on the way from the upper room (where he’d instituted the Lord’s Supper) to the Garden of Gethsemane (where he would agonize in prayer to his Father before being arrested, tried, and crucified), saying, “You have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV).
Paul certainly seems to have believed that the Christian life should be marked by joy. Throughout his letter to the Christians in Philippi, which he wrote while a prisoner waiting for a trial which could result in his being condemned to death, he talked about joy and rejoicing. An example is, “I will continue to rejoice” (Philippians 1:18). What made him rejoice despite his bad situation? He went on to say, “For I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance” (1:19). Ah, that explains it–Paul rejoiced because he expected to be freed from his imprisonment.
However he continued, “It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death” (1:20). Oh, oh. Paul didn’t know whether he’d be released or executed. Then why his rejoicing? Maybe he was just so tired of being a prisoner that all he wanted was deliverance from his imprisonment and he didn’t care whether it was by being released or by being executed. “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” What did Paul mean? He went on to explain: if he lived, he’d be able to continue his ministry for Christ; if he died, he’d go to be with Christ.
Clearly Paul could continue to rejoice, whatever his circumstances, because his life was so wrapped up in Christ that his joy came from his joy came from his relationship with Christ rather than with the things which we ordinarily think of as sources of happiness. However, he didn’t think of himself as unique in this regard, for he exhorted the Christians in Philippi to have the same joy, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (4:4). And I’m sure that if we were alive this Easter, he’d encourage us to think of the empty tomb as well as of the cross and to rejoice in the Lord.
The preceding is adapted from the opening to my “Rejoice in the Miracle of Easter!” article in our Easter, 1996 Hunter Family Holiday Newsletter. Some further thoughts on the cross as a symbol of Christianity follow.
Currently I’m rereading my books on the Christian life in preparation for the study of prayer which the Life group Leonora and I attend plans to do. One of those books, William G. Morrice’s Joy in the New Testament (Exeter: The Paternoster Press, 1984), brought out to me that the Greek word rendered “boast” in Paul’s “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14) actually means “joyfully boast” (pages 54, 113). I’m sure that Paul would be pleased with the hymn with which I close this post, Isaac Watts’ “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” (1707).
Not only do we praise the cross in our hymns, but also we decorate our churches, cemeteries, and even ourselves with crosses. Why do we so reverence something that was regarded with repugnance and horror in the first century? “The only things comparable in our day,” Richard N. Longenecker observes, “would be venerating an electric chair or wearing a hangman’s noose around our necks as a symbol of our religious devotion” (Galatians, Dallas, Texas: Word Books, 1990, page 294).
R. C. H. Lenski answers: “It is the cross of ‘the blood theology,’ on which the Son of God died for our advantage, the cross of expiation, substitution, ransom, and atonement, the cross which brought the resurrection of the crucified body and its exaltation at God’s right hand of majesty and power and the future resurrection and exaltation of our mortal bodies” (The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Galatians to the Ephesians and to the Philippians, Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Publishing House, 1937 [original copyright], page 318). In other words, the cross symbolizes all of our redemption, including the empty tomb.
When I survey the wondrous cross,
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God;
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.
See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down;
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
His dying crimson, like a robe,
Spreads o’er His body on the tree;
Then am I dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me.
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.