Is the tomb a better necklace to wear.

Here’s an article I have up over at Wrecked where I am an editor for.

Symbols have power. For some, symbols might hold something even deeper than a memory, maybe your identity. For those who follow the god of Wal-Mart, it might be the cheesy yellow pin with a grin on it. For those who follow the god of the Dallas Cowboys, your symbol might be the blue star of Texas. And others who say they follow Yahweh, their symbol is a cross. For those in the Old Testament, their symbol may have been the burning bush or the two tablets or a map with little traveling nomads on it.

We can’t get away from the reality that symbols shape us. Symbols might even have more influence than we think.

Semiotics, as an academic discipline, seeks to make sense of symbols and what they mean and why they mean what they mean. Take for example, the cross. We might think of the cross as a symbol of atonement or a symbol of self-sacrificial love or maybe a symbol of death. For Rome, the cross didn’t signify atonement. It signified someone who deserved to die because they were insurrectionists. It was a tool of embarrassment and public shame. It signified failure on the part of the crucified ones. It signaled victory to the way of Rome. But, why the cross? Why has the cross come to mean so much to those who follow in the way of Jesus?

Some might say because it is the ultimate act of love and salvation of the God-man who came to earth on our behalf. Others say it is a symbol of deep hope and invitation to the world. If I can pose a question at this point in the conversation:

How would the electric chair be a symbol of hope or redemption or atonement?

Don’t get me wrong, I think we needed Jesus to save us, but it is an act that is past tense in the sense of universal salvation. He is still saving us, and for that I think the cross can be a reminder of what He did for us and what He is doing. But the cross as a symbol becomes a bit anemic to the story of Jesus only because, according to Biblical witness, He comes back to life. And so, why isn’t the symbol we hold dear the tomb? It was a sign of victory over sin, over death, over darkness and destructive ways of living. It was an act of defiant hope against all odds. The cross was defiant, it was deadly. That’s what the purpose of the cross was and is and anything else like it today would hold the same stigma. So, why end the story there in our symbols when we all know it didn’t actually end there?

I think we might have been misled to think that the cross was the point. And so our symbols have gotten mixed up. Think of it like a radio signal. Every radio has its own signal it uses to broadcast its’ station to the world. Now, those signals can even go over the Internet. But, we can easily flip the dial and switch over to another radio station because static is just that tricky. And so maybe in the historic static of semiotics, either the people who directly followed Jesus or those who followed after them might have mixed up their signals and have turned an instrument of death into hope. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It is good to restore paradoxes, but that’s if the story we subscribe to ends there, and as we know it, it doesn’t.

It ends with resurrection. Which is a better symbol for hope. A better symbol to empower us to go and resurrect love, peace, grace and redemption wherever we go!

What do you think? Is the cross a good symbol for Christianity or is the tomb a better one?

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6 comments

  1. Erin Schlanger · December 8, 2009

    Yes, the Tomb is a symbol of great hope, joy, love, and, indeed permanence. But the cross, a device of incredible, and awesome torture is a symbol of sacrifice. Yes, Jesus only died once. Yes, Jesus died to save us forever. He doesn’t continue the cycle of dying and resurrecting every time we sin. But as a symbol for Christians, the cross represents a sacrifice. One that he made, not at first, willingly. What incredible pain and torture he endured. What awesome torment. Maybe the cross, as a symbol, is a way of remembering the nails that broke his wrists, and the spear that pierced his heart. Maybe to some the continual reminder of that sacrifice is what keeps their hearts, minds and eyes continually focused on Jesus.

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    • travelersnote · December 8, 2009

      Hey Erin! How u been?

      I would ask, if you had a child would you think their death however poetic it was was an act of “awesome torture”? For example, if your mom was mad at you for doing something wrong (God’s supposed anger toward mankind; i don’t agree with this by the way) and then decides the only way to fix it is to kick the dog (jesus’ death on the cross), this is the basic idea of atonement in most churches. (that metaphor is from a guy named Brian Mclaren, google him, good stuff!!). But if Jesus died because God was mad at us then God asks us to do something He himself can not do and that is to forgive one another. (Another idea of Brian Mclaren). See, if the cross was an act of failure to Rome, to his disciples, and they experienced hope and joy and resurrected feelings of redemption, wouldn’t it make sense to spend our time being excited about what the tomb represents??

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  2. Erin Schlanger · December 8, 2009

    I agree. We should be excited about the tomb. Because, without his resurrection, the cross would have been pointless. I personally, look to both. The cross, as a reminder of what my sin caused to happen. And the empty tomb as a reminder of what was overcome. (I don’t think the torture was cool. I use the word awesome to explain that the crucifixion does inspire awe.) I just wanted to point out that, there are reasons to see the cross as a viable symbol.

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  3. travelersnote · December 8, 2009

    i am curious, when you say viable, what do you mean?

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  4. jamesbrett · December 9, 2009

    I also wish we thought more about the empty tomb — but I don’t think that can take away, or replace, the cross. The two must work hand in hand. Paul certainly believes there is a great deal of power in the cross (1 Cor 1:17, Gal 6:14, Col 2:15, etc).

    But I think that Galatians text gets at one often overlooked reason the symbol of the cross is important: the cross is also representative / symbolic of my own death to the world and its death to me. The cross is important because I have participated in Christ’s death with him.

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    • travelersnote · December 10, 2009

      there is a group of people called the Jesus Seminar, a bunch of biblical historical scholars who think Jesus might not have said “take up your cross and follow me”, they believe it was too violent to caricature the nature of Christ. I think Paul is great, but interestingly enough, his views aren’t the ultimate authority on God, nor, as I am sure we could agree, should be. I wonder why there is so much interest in trying to make an ‘electric chair’ a positive symbol when it clearly represented what it does then even now. now, i am all for metaphors. i am all for reinventing imagery. but sometimes, it almosts seems we worship the cross so much,its almost as if jesus enjoyed his own death. i just cant’ see that anywhere. i get it is a metaphor for sacrifice and seeking others before ourselves…but when people talk about ‘victorious living’ in the church they dont’ think of the tomb, which was empty and a representation of life, they think of the death cab. hmmmm…thanks for the chat…it has got me thinking…..

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