The cross on which Christ died may not have looked exactly like our familiar crucifixes. It did indeed have a vertical support and each of the condemned carried his horizontal beam to the place of execution—so the basic configuration we know is an appropriate approximation. But no one who had witnessed that torturous form of execution wished to perpetuate the actual image.
Our familiar cross is one of the oldest signs associated with worship, its earliest representation going back to the Neanderthals. What it meant to them, we can’t say exactly, but a cross drawn in a circle could suggest the path of the sun, the cycle of moon phases, our human penchant to discover opposites balanced in pairs, resolved in their common center.
The Church Fathers recognized the cross as the archetype of creation, traced in the cosmic intersection of the poles and the equator, shaping the constellations that orient us or the mast and beam that bears the sail propelling the ship, the anchor that holds it steady; even the contours of the human body. So the cross is not just an object but a crossroad of time and space, the location of an event central to our living.
The cross is the exchange of boundless divinity for contingent humanity, the sacrifice of God’s life to make room for created life, the interchange of matter and spirit, all unfolding since the dawn of time, all concentrated in the events of one day in human history, on Calvary. In that wondrous exchange, the created realm, assumed by the Son of God, intersects with his native divinity. Creator and creature interpenetrate, revealing what creation is intended to be.
This capacity of creation, this intention of the Creator, anticipated from eternity, is the blue print of Divine Revelation, our Redemption, the Sacraments, of our life in Christ.
Isn’t that what we celebrate today? And, in celebrating, discover who we should—who we could—become?