Ash Wednesday: The Ashes of our Crosses

There are too many Swastikas around nowadays.

I never thought I’d need to say that; I grew up at a time when Nazi iconography was frowned upon, so seeing the resurgence of the Swastika as a symbol of white nationalism and hate is a shocking reminder that these things never really got away, they just get rebranded.

My instinct is to fight back, to deploy a better symbol aso a gesture of defiance and hope. As a Christian, that means the Cross, but something stopped me from blithely suggesting we all bring out our crucifixes. Because, blasphemous as this is, we’ve made our symbol of love and grace, hope and redemption into something problematic. The KKK used burning crosses as an act of terror; now branches of the church are complicit with politics and attitudes that actively destroy lives. In doing that we’ve turned the cross into a mechanism, a banner, something to get us into heaven, something to march under so we can be sure we’re comfortable before we get there. The idolatry of our anger and fear conspire to turn the Cross into a heresy of terror.

I’m scared we’ve neutered our greatest symbol. I’m scared people see our cross as yet another form of oppression.

So. Ash Wednesday.

Traditionally this year’s ashes come from the burning of palm crosses blessed in the previous twelve months. Even this is a picture of resurrection – there are ashes today, but Easter’s coming soon. And I can’t help but think that, this year at least, we need to let our use and understanding of the Cross pass through the fire.

We need to repent.

We need to face up to the ways in which we’ve co-opted Jesus and his cross into our culture wars.

We need to ask forgiveness of everyone we’ve driven away from God

Many churches now do public Ash Wednesday services where anyone can receive the ashes on their forehead. But wouldn’t this be a great time to wear the ashes ourselves as a public act of repentance for the sins and the mistakes of the church? To start rebuilding a few bridges into the communities we’ve marginalised?

Sometimes the most powerful outeach starts with a “sorry”.

The Cross was once a means of humiliation and execution, but it was transformed by Christ into a symbol of love and grace, and when we lose that we’re just another Empire. The “foolishness” of the Cross isn’t intrinsic, it’s granted by the transformative sacrifice of Jesus. Lose that, lose the love and grace, lose Jesus and the Cross becones nothing. The Church becomes nothing.

Ash Wednesday is a time to confront our past, our mortality, our mistakes, our sin. In a world where Swastikas and their ideology are resurgent, we need to utterly reject our silence, our apathy, our tacit support, rejecting the politically symbol we’ve made of the Cross and rediscover the true love and mercy and justice of Calvary.

Let us reclaim Christ’s Cross and, in doing so, pray for redemption, for transformation, for the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to come.

(This is part of a conversation which started, I guess, here.)

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