Within 24 hours this last week-end I encountered three very different crosses.
The first was brought to my attention in a phone call from our custodian. I was working at my desk on Saturday morning when he called to tell me that the church had been tagged with graffiti the night before. He told me where it was and described it for me, but then went on to say that they had already covered it up with cardboard and duct tape until they had time to better remove it.
I sat with this a while as I continued to work on my Palm Sunday sermon. I felt the sickness in the pit of my stomach that often comes with the realization that someone has meant you harm. I knew I needed to go and look for myself, but it took me a while before I made my way to the back kitchen door.
It turns out the graffiti artist was not much of an artist after all for a stencil had been used — a stencil which was not the markings of a local gang as I would have first suspected, but held rather a satanic symbol complete with an upside down cross. I shuddered at first to see the red paint on the faded wooden door. And yet, even as I walked away I found myself remembering the legend that Peter had been crucified on an upside down cross — considering himself unworthy to be crucified as Jesus was.
I’m not sure I knew this before, but it turns out the upside down cross is actually an ancient Christian symbol. The police told us it was meant as a sign of disrespect. Still, in spite of their apparent intentions, our late night visitors were actually marking us with that which is actually already ours.
On Sunday morning I was gifted with the image of another cross. As I was greeting our people after Palm Sunday worship, a young family approached. Six year old Lillian’s mother handed me a piece of paper: a crayon drawing Lillian had done in school this week. She wanted me to have it, but was too shy to hand it to me herself. It is beautiful and bright with pinks and purples and oranges filling inside the outline of a cross. I bent down to thank the little girl, telling her I would hang it in my office.
It was a wonderful counterpoint to that other cross, which even though that one is also ‘ours,’ this one that came as a gift from a child’s hand, served as a beautiful reminder that our crosses are not something stenciled on, but instead take on the hues, the shapes, even, of those who carry them, who live them, who offer them and all we are for the sake of the life of the world.
And as for our graffiti? It was easily removed, but I have to say its memory still leaves me a little shaken, a little angry perhaps, and certainly more than a little wondering about who would do this. It could be it was just some kids messing around, but their action was clearly planned out and intentional. So maybe these bearers of red spray paint are those who actually understand themselves to be followers of Satan. Most likely I will never know. Part of me would like to ‘catch’ them, to engage in conversation, to wonder at what is shaping their lives and feeding their hope.
Wherever this goes, this much I know. We stand this week in the shadow of another cross, a third one. One that was the means of death for the very Son of God who died for one and for all, who “was wounded for our transgressions, crushed by our iniquities.” (Isaiah 53:5). Who gave of of himself for a little girl whose cross is bright and colorful. For those who by the dark of night left a mark meant to hurt or at least to insult on a building dedicated to service and to love. And for all of us with all of our mixed up hearts: good and evil both all together at the same time — For all of us who gather around the cross of Jesus in this Holy Week. And I wonder now what it will look like for us to actually bear the cross of Jesus as we encounter in the world those who differ from us, whose intention might even be harm or insult. I wonder what it would look like if we did this as Jesus did. I wonder if our crosses will bear the bright colors of a little girl. I wonder if they will look hopeful or somber or wise. I wonder if my cross might not also be upside down as Peter’s was as I remember that I am no more worthy than those who marked our back door last Friday night. I wonder…
- This particular graffiti incident has me wondering how it is we are called to encounter those differ from us. How do you think are we called to do this? As those who follow the Crucified One, what should our posture be?
- What does it look like in the world today to face down evil with good? Can you think of times when you have seen this happen? When you have been part of it?
- What role does the cross of Jesus play as we deal with evil, suffering, or hurt in our lives? What might a ‘suffering servant’ as described in Isaiah 52:13-53:12 look like today as we encounter one another? What does it mean for us in our own journeys of life and faith?
- If you were to ‘color in’ your cross, what colors would you use? Would you use words or symbols or sounds? What would they be? How would ‘your cross’ look different from any other?