Symbols have served the church as powerful teaching tools for hundreds of years. Whether it was the Stations of the Cross, or the Gospel depicted in stained glass, pictures and symbols provide rich imagery that helps the gospel come alive in the minds of the parishioner.
This past week, several men in the church I serve put in the sweat equity to make such a symbol come alive for us. For a number of years, we have discussed how to get a new cross as a focal point in our church services. With limited budgets and no shortage of ideas, we set out to prayerfully consider how to best do so. We wanted to tie in our baptistry space. We wanted the cross to be prominent. We wanted to have something new but that reminded us of the free-standing cross we displayed in our worship space at many points of the year.
We discussed accent walls with stone, tile, murals…you name it. Then we landed on the current design. It seemed only fitting to explain a bit of what the different parts mean to us.
First is the cross. While we don’t worship the cross, it does bear theological prominence. We recognize that the cross is, by design, an instrument of death, but it is on the cross that our Lord and Savior bled and died to provide us eternal life (John 3:16). He completely satisfied the just penalty for our sins (1 John 2:2) when he died on the cross nearly 2,000 years ago.
Furthermore, our cross is empty. It is empty because Jesus completed the substitutionary atonement and no longer has need to occupy the cross. We know that in some church traditions, Jesus is still visible on the cross. We reject this understanding because we believe that Christ’s atoning work has already been accomplished and does not need repeating.
In addition, our cross is stained, meaning that we did not wish to cover over the wood with paint to make it more attractive. The color one sees comes as wet stain soaked into the wooden cross, much the same way that the Lord’s blood stained the cross he was crucified on.
Additionally, there is a light behind the cross which reminds us that Christ came as light into the world (John 1:9). Light is powerful and enlightens man to see Christ through the darkness. Light always triumphs over darkness.
Finally, the cross is set against a backdrop of wood. This wood was created for a purpose and was then discarded. It is reclaimed “pallet wood.” The wood is imperfect. No two pieces are exactly alike. Some still have splinters. Some still bear the holes where nails had previously been driven. Each piece was reclaimed from its discarded state to be fashioned to fit together with other discarded pieces until there was perfect coverage on the wall. Part of what made the wood useful again was the application of stain, just as with the cross.
In these pieces of reclaimed wood, we find a picture of ourselves as the church. We are all different. We were created for a purpose but due to our sin, we were suitable only to be discarded; that is, until Christ and the cross shone forth light into the darkness of our existence. Each of us were reclaimed and covered with stain that penetrated into us and revealed our character. Then, in the hands of a master craftsman, we were fashioned and placed back into service.
When you see the cross above our baptistry at Calvary, do not think that it is just another accent wall and religious decoration. It is, instead, a symbolic representation of reclaimed lives with renewed purpose because of a loving Savior, a Cross, and light shining into darkness.