Very soon we will be placing a large cross atop our MN South District office building in Burnsville. The building serving as the hub of our district’s mission could be any building. Now it will be marked clearly as a place and an enterprise under the cross. We will use the triple cross, marking us as the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in this place. For LCMS insiders, it may just become an identifying mark for a building not all that easy to find. For those outside our faith, the cross may not say more than, “Christians Inside,” which is not a bad message to send at all.
Among the earliest Christians, it appears that the cross was too horrific to portray as an image. You don’t see it much in the first centuries of Christianity. More prevalent was the early depiction of Christ as a shepherd with a lamb riding his shoulders. As Christian art developed, Christ was often depicted as a kingly ruler of the universe. Then, later, in the face of plague and pestilence, increasingly artists gave us a suffering Christ, as if to say, “He knows our pain. As He overcame, so will we!”
Yet the cross dominates the inspired writings of the New Testament. The suffering of Christ is significant in each of the four Gospels. Paul puts the cross at the center of the church’s mission with the words, “We preach Christ crucified (1 Cor 1:23a).” The crosses atop our church buildings and now our district office building define us as those for whom Christ died. We live and serve under the cross.
What do people see when they see a cross? I heard about one woman looking for a cross in a jewelry store who actually said, “There, I’ll take that one there – the cute one with the little man on it!” Isn’t that nice! So I will wonder about those who pass by on Highway 42 and Interstate 35E, glancing at our cross. They will likely see what they want to see, and in most cases it will be neither right nor enough. The cross is like that. To some it is “stumbling block,” or “foolishness,” writes Paul, but to us “the power of God” to save us and “the wisdom of God” to teach us (1 Cor 1:23b).
For us, the image of the cross can carry so many meanings – love, sacrifice, victory, grace, humility, forgiveness, redemption, justification. Reading the four gospels in the Scriptures leaves one with the impression that each of the inspired evangelists had his own perspective on the cross. In Matthew the Passion is the fulfillment of prophecy. Mark’s gospel focuses on the suffering yet victorious Son of God. Luke emphasizes the innocence of Jesus, proclaimed no less three times. In John, the cross is the glory of Christ, His being lifted up for our salvation.
So as Lent begins, we go “up to Jerusalem” once again. Just as one always goes up to Jerusalem, so one always goes up to the cross. There is much to see there, in the sign of the cross. It hovers above us, silencing our alleluias for a time, casting its shadow over our churches and even our office buildings, lifting our eyes and hearts to Him whose only now is forever.