By Fr Paul Melwyn, Pamedi, Capuchin
Mar 25: Every religion abounds in symbols and religious objects. They are visual and tangible representations of its many lofty values and ideals which words alone cannot adequately describe. Symbols help to foster solidarity among adherents, and bring them closer to the divine. Om (Aum) is the most sacred symbol of Hinduism. It is one of the most chanted symbols and is believed to have a profound effect on the body and mind of the one who chants it. The shield of David, or as it more commonly known, the Star of David is the symbol associated with Judaism. The Dharma wheel, a common symbol of Buddhism, traditionally represented with eight spokes refers to the noble eightfold path. The primary symbol of Islam is the star and crescent. The Khanda symbol of Sikhism signifies the creative power of God and divine justice.
Cross is the central symbol of Christian faith. It points to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and its salvific benefits to his followers. For Christians, making a sign of the cross is an act of profession of faith, a gesture of prayer and a sign of blessing. A cross is two beams of simple wood. Originally, it had no other purpose than to be an instrument reserved for criminals and those considered unworthy of human life. Crucifixion was a humiliation and a warning to others. The cross that Christians behold and revere, an intersection of wood and the body of Jesus Christ stretched out on a vertical wooden beamand with outstretched arms attached by nails to the horizontal wooden beam is called crucifix.
In Republic, Plato, the great Greek philosopher who lived four centuries before Jesus, asked what was likely to be the position of man who was completely just and innocent on this earth. He came to the conclusion that a completely just man would be crucified. In imagining what would happen to a perfectly just man in our unjust world, he wrote "our just man will be scourged, racked, fettered… and at last, after all manner of suffering, will be crucified." (The Republic, Book II, 362a). In a way, his words became true on Mount Calvary where Jesus the innocent man was executed as a criminal, amongst criminals, in the name of truth, justice and liberty. His death was made real on a cross because it warned people about crimes against the state with the added shame, pain, and public ridicule.
In his book, 'Death on a Friday Afternoon' Richard Neuhaus writes, "If what Christians say about Good Friday is true, then it is quite simply the truth about everything". The cross is the truth of everything. It has become a symbol for everything unjust in the world: violence, oppression, hatred, murder, genocide and all types of human suffering. It exposed what we blithely call human civilization that was so corrupt, capable of destroying truth and condemning a man who was just and blameless as a criminal. He was executed as a rebel. Many bore false witness against him. He was delivered to Pontius Pilate charged with sedition against Rome.
Today is "Good Friday" or "Holy Friday", a special day for Christians set aside to commemorate the death of Jesus on the cross. They make it a point to remember the sacrifice of Jesus made on behalf of humanity and venerate the cross and adore the crucified Christ. The great theologian Jürgen Moltmannopinesthat "the nucleus of everything that Christian theology says about 'God' is to be found in this Christ event". God revealed Himself on the cross as to who He was. Jesus, who was crucified not between two candles on an altar but between two criminals,reveals the true nature of God as forgiving love, healing, strength and hope. TheCross gives us a glimpse of the worst of human nature and best of divine nature. For Christians, there is no faith in Jesus without understanding that on the cross we see the true nature of God, which is love so amazing. It is indeed, therefore, so meaningful to pray with St Francis of Assisi: "We adore you, Lord Jesus Christ! Here and in all the churches in the whole world. And we bless you, because by your Holy Cross, you have redeemed the world."