the cross in early church life
As we have been exploring Judith Couchman’s The Mystery of the Cross over the last few weeks, I have been transformed by images of the cross. I have to say that I was not prepared for the way this section would change my perspective on acts of worship. As I read, I was in awe at how God used the words on the pages to help me better understand and appreciate my own Lutheran tradition. It was by no accident that I was given this section to reflect on!
Before Christianity was an accepted religion, places of worship were simple – and many times hidden. As Christianity became more and more accepted, places of worship became more open – and more extravagant. This section talks a lot about the extravagant ways in which early Christians portrayed the cross in their worship spaces. That got me thinking – so many of our churches have gone extravagant. The buildings, the programs, the music, the technology, the worship services. We have spent much time and money focusing on how we make our places of worship “worthy” to be called “God’s house.” This translates to our own selves as well – we think we have to bring our best selves to God so that we feel worthy to stand in God’s presence. I can remember times in my own life where I felt unworthy of God’s love. Times when I stayed far away from church because I felt like I wasn’t good enough to be there. Like my faith wasn’t strong enough or I was too much of a mess to go to the holy place. Or maybe I was afraid that my mess would show up and everyone around me would know that I wasn’t worthy. And then, there was that time when I was on vacation without any “church clothes” so I didn’t go to church that Sunday even though I really wanted to.
And yet the message of the cross is anything but ornate. The cross was simple – there was nothing extravagant about it (except of course, God’s love portrayed on it.) In fact, when you think about it, the way that extravagant love was portrayed was anything but beautiful. Jesus was literally torn apart at the cross – it was a place filled with dust, skin, blood, and who knows what other kinds of bodily fluids. The cross was the last place anyone wanted to be. Sure, it’s the resurrection from the cross that makes us realize how powerful and incredible God is. God is awesome and God does deserve our best – but the whole message of the cross is that God takes us just as we are. God loves our messy selves just as much as God loves our best selves. The cross looks the same.
That same cross is all over our worship spaces – in the layouts, in the processionals & recessionals, in the bread & the wine of communion, in the pictures around the walls. No matter how ornate we make it, the message of the cross will always be a simple one – God’s extravagant love poured out for us in all of our messiness.
I leave you with this one question: How can we, like the earliest Christians, remember the significance and simplicity of the cross while at the same time worship the awesomeness that is God?