Have you ever wondered why the cross is the symbol of Christianity and not the empty tomb?
I’ve considered this throughout Lent this year, and find myself laughing at the absurdity of decorating oneself with the means of torture and death. (That’s not funny haha but tragicomedy.) The empty tomb on the other hand, the element of resurrection captured in what is not here rather than what is, seems to be a glorious element of the Christian faith which we’ll celebrate in less than two weeks.
Surely, there’s historical reasons, the banishing of evil by the presentation of the cross, that merits some digging. But one has to wonder if it’s not more ingrained in a theological undertone.
The empty tomb symbolizes new life, and to a broad Christian swathe, the finish line. The cross symbolizes death to sin, death to one’s self, and death (ultimately) to death. In Matthew 16:24, Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” It’s a mark of discipleship, of becoming dusty with the dirt kicked up by the master, Jesus, rather than grasping onto the glory of the resurrection.
The cross reminds us that we were saved, paid for, brought back, ransomed, healed, etc. by the actual suffering and death of a man who was also fully God. The cross unites us in the suffering.
This Lent, I have thought more about the cross and less about the empty tomb. The cross or crucifix (if you prefer Jesus body to still hang on the cross) serves as a reminder that while, yes, the victory has been won, there is still that minor detail of living it out in a true fashion that honors the one who died for us. It strikes me that the early designers of the cross as a symbol of our faith knew that the cross need remind us that we cannot trade the empty tomb by way of cheap grace, but that it was won with a great cost.
While I believe in the empty tomb, and will no doubt celebrate it with great joy in two weeks, I am reminded that the cross is the only way the empty tomb matters. That some natural or accidental death would not have rendered the same response, but that “by his wounds, we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). This cost something. The death of the Son, the death of sin.
And only one came back.
So I will glory in the cross, and count its shame among many others to be the mark of grace, forgiveness, and victory. It is no longer the reminder of a brutal murder but the broken end of death made powerless by the resurrection of the Son.