Should the church ban the cross? Well, consider…
The Liturgical Commission of the Church of England has just introduced a new Baptism service from which are omitted all the old references to sin, repentance, the devil and all his works. But the christening is not merely an irksome prelude to the booze up, the cake and millions of photographs. It is a washing, cleansing rite in which we are sacramentally baptised into Christ’s death. And this reminds us that Christianity is not a nice religion consisting solely of charming nativity plays, Easter lilies and tea and cucumber sandwiches with the vicar. It is about a man being flogged to within an inch of his life, then taken out, nailed to a piece of wood and left to die in the sun. The theologian Don Cupitt long ago complained that Christianity contains “morally repellent symbolism.” Yes, and it does so because the world and human beings contain some morally repellent facts. These facts were traditionally represented by those words about evil, sin and the devil. Remove those words and we begin to wonder what Christianity is for. If Christ died for our sins, shouldn’t mention be made of the reality of sin?
All those Giotto crucifixions – shouldn’t they be burned or at least stowed away in some attic where no one has to look at them? I have an idea: take them out of the churches where they were first installed and put them in an art gallery where people can be charged to come and spout aesthetics over them. Those huge crucifixes, especially in Roman Catholic churches – they’re not very nice either. As for the heartbreak of Bach’s St Matthew Passion or the violence of that nasty Dies Irae from the Requiem – well, they’re just to give church musicians something to do.
By removing sin and the devil from the liturgy, the church has inflicted upon itself a sort of willed psychosis, amounting to a denial of reality. You might say the church has resigned.
I began by asking the question of whether the church should ban the cross. Astonishingly, it has done this already – at least in some places. When I was a country parson in Yorkshire, a decree went out from the Archdeacon of York’s office forbidding the placing of crosses on graves. (I am not making this up) The reason given? “Undue repetition of the supreme Christian symbol is not appropriate.” So the war graves in Belgium and France will have to go too – perhaps pile all those images together in one place as an EU crucifix mountain.
Being scourged and nailed up to die in the sun wasn’t very appropriate either: just necessary.