There’s a lot of irony with Christian symbols like the cross. We see crosses in so many places. They are obviously in churches, but are also around our necks, printed on bumperstickers and shirts, or used in Facebook posts. We might even see the cross symbol so often that it may even lose meaning.
In Jesus’ time the cross was anything but a hopeful symbol. Political prisoners and the worst kinds of criminals often had the fate of crucifixion on a cross. The Romans often left these victims of capital punishment hanging in public (even after dying) in order to strike fear into the population.
If we keep this historical background in mind, having a cross necklace around your neck today is basically like having a guillotine or electric chair! It was literally a tool of death used frequently by the Roman empire.
But this reveals to us one of the radical, profound truths of Easter. Of all things, a cross actually can give hope. Instead of being a symbol of death, the gospel subverts its meaning to illustrate how God operates. Here’s how Colossians 1:19-23 puts it:
19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him,20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven,and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
Notice the subversive, paradoxical language of Colossians. God made peace through blood shed on the cross, a tool of state-sponsored violence. Peace came about through the horrific events of Good Friday. Easter morning gave humanity the gift of salvation and hope for a better future–both life here and now, as well as what happens after we die. We too can be raised into new life because of Christ.
God used the violence of the cross to bring about peace. In other words, Jesus took the worst humanity had to offer (humiliation, injustice, violence, crucifixion, etc.) and brought about salvation from it. The good news of Easter is that God took the sinfulness of the world and brought about salvation. God took a cross and brought about everlasting hope.