the true cross

Across the back of the chancel,
seven white columns protrude from the back wall
and rise from the floor to a point at which they
fan up and out—almost like rafters—on the ceiling.
The six sections of back wall between the seven columns
are paneled with wood in warm contrast—
and in the panels are embedded, at different heights,
recessed lighting and speakers.

The paneling between the columns
actually rises higher than the columns themselves—
into recesses in the ceiling—
the wood paneling disappearing from view
forming the back of these ceiling alcoves,
while the columns arc out to form the parallel sides
of the bases of the recesses.
It is visually and architecturally
strikingly impressive and beautiful.

So seven columns—
the number seven representing in biblical thought
and six contrasting paneled spaces—
the number six, representing the imperfect—
the incomplete—the partial.

And sanctuary and church are formed
in the interweaving of perfection and imperfection.
Not perfection claimed or attained, I would hasten to add,
nor revealed—not in my experience of church,
but the perfection of the unrelenting hope
of those who know God braided into and through
the way things are.

Then, peering up into those ceiling alcoves,
I was startled to find a cross in one of the middle ones—
high up, angled askew—
invisible unless you were pretty much standing under it
looking up.
I asked a church member about it.
Surprised, “Surely those are support beams,” she said.

“Oh no,” said I, “surely not!
Wouldn’t it be ever so much more wondrous
to be able to say,
‘You probably don’t know of many churches
with the insight and the courage
to acknowledge the tendency of churches
to rather obviously display a decorative cross,
beautifully designed to fit in,
but to take the ugly cross—
the heavy, rough-hewn, unfinished cross
that actually supports our faith—
that represents the monstrous ways
in which we still crucify God
and that supports the full weight
of the initiative of committed sacrificial love—
to take that cross
and shove it up where the sun doesn’t shine.’”

And I imagined a conversation
with someone new to the church,
and a minister member saying,
“You’ve no doubt seen the cross—
the beautiful cross—the decorative cross
hanging on the wall over there.
But before you make your commitment to God
in the form of commitment to us
as a fellowship of followers of God in the way of Jesus,
we need you to know—
you need to know
the truth of the hidden cross—
the true and horrible cross
that we hide—
that we don’t want to acknowledge as still so very real—
the one still made manifest
in all its terrible purpose
whenever we indulge fear
and allow discrimination—
when we exclude and ridicule—
whenever we reject honest questions
and brokenness shared—
whenever we close our minds and our hearts,

and yet, perhaps even more frighteningly,
the one also made manifest,
as faced and overcome,
when we trust love,
and claim hope,
when we live in faith,
and risk God.”

This my hope and prayer
for that and all churches.


One thought on “the true cross

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