Crosses are very popular. A statement of faith, or not—they hang on chains, adorning movie stars, characters on TV shows, country singers and rap artists. Limitless in style, shape, design and color, each represents artistic uniqueness.
But while these may only look like diverse pieces of jewelry to the casual observer, the reality is that their origins reveal a rich and powerful legacy. In Judith Couchman's new book, The Mystery of the Cross; Bringing Ancient Christian Images to Life (IVP), we get a glimpse into the myriad meanings of the cross through history via her short study of 40 images. Crosses represented all that Christians believed and how they approached life. They were significant, not just an accessory or bling.
When I picked up the book I was immediately drawn to number 19, A Cross in the Desert because I live smack in the middle of one. She describes in poetic detail the hope instilled in ancient travelers as they arrived at Mount Sinai's Saint Catherine's Monastery and looked upon the "Sinai Christ." This iconic carving depicts a life-sized Jesus holding the Gospel with a jewel-encrusted cross on the cover. Can you imagine the impact this would have had on depleted, road-weary pilgrims as they first laid eyes on it?
Couchman talks about the tradition of taking times of solitude in the desert to separate from the distractions of life. The heat, the absence of life-giving water and even the quiet make the desert an unappealing choice. But sometimes a bit of stark, harsh isolation is the only thing that will ultimately draw us back to the foot of the true cross. She expresses the value of her own experiences in the desert, encouraging diversion-challenged Believers to consider their own pilgrimage, however brief.
In number 26, Coins for the Kingdom, she paints a picture of the significance of the cross on ancient Roman currency:
In our own uncertain times, Roman "cross coins" speak to us about the true source of security. Ultimately, we can't depend on coins or paper money or employment or prosperity to provide daily necessities or secure the future...When economies falter, we're led back to Christ's words. His promise of provision transcends the transition of world leaders, the pillage of empires and the collapse of economies. He assures us: in God we can trust.
Remember the rich heritage of the cross when you see it dangling from an earlobe, decorating an Easter cookie or shining atop the roof of your church. Take a few seconds to consider the story and the mystery it represents. Don't disregard or disrespect its significance—artistically or as a tangible symbol of hope to people throughout history.
Whether you're a history buff, an art lover or a person who is merely curious about the origins and meaning of this enduring symbol of faith, The Mystery of the Cross is interesting, enlightening and inspirational. It can be found at your local bookstore, on the internet or at InterVarsity Press online.
What comes to mind as you think of the cross? Do you have a favorite image or piece of jewelry? Has it become passé or secular? Is it important to you to preserve its iconic significance? Comment below.