Thursday, 27 September 2012

Sign of the Cross

The Cross is everywhere. The symbol of Christianity was based on a Roman instrument of torture, but the geometry of the Cross is so simple and universal that it speaks to everyone.

The figure of a human being with arms outstretched conjures the idea that the human person is the expression and reflection of the whole world – a microcosm. The cosmos is marked with a cross. The two lines meeting at right angles are the simplest way to locate a point, to fix a coordinate. The two dimensions of the plane surface receive from the cross a central point, or emanate from it. Stand it vertically and it represents the intersection of our reality with the hierarchy of others above and below us. 

All of this is going on when Christ carries the wood of the Cross to Calvary, where it is assembled and raised up to make the paradoxical throne from which he reigns in the midst of our darkness and pain. With him upon it, and his blood running down it, this simple wooden gibbet becomes the Tree of Life that ends our exile from Eden’s garden.

But we have to go through it, as one might go through a doorway. Christ dies on the Cross not so that we don’t have to, but so that he can be with us when we die. Because he dies like us, we don’t have to let go of his hand in death – or if we do he will hold us, to bring us back to life. He accompanies us, goes ahead of us, follows us, to rescue us. Death is a baptism; it is an Epiphany. The blood and water that pours from the Lord’s side into the chalice of the world is the sacred river of life, the river that runs through the heavenly city in the Book of Revelation.

The Pleiades, shown here, are the seven daughters of the Titan Atlas, changed into stars by Zeus. The idea of making people immortal by changing them into stars is a powerful one. There is a sense in which our destiny lies in the heavens, and these bright points of light, shining so far above this vale of tears, represent something we aspire to, but can only become if we are touched and elevated by divine grace. The Cross, where heaven and earth meet, is the sign of that contact and elevation.

1 comment:

  1. Cf. Ilias, XVIII, 589: σταθμούς τε κλισίας τε κατηρεφέας ἰδὲ σηκούς, for the very first reference to the cross in Western literature.