Three Images of the Cross

Dr. Kelly McFall
Professor History
Chair of the Division of Humanities

On Easter Sunday this year, I was one of 9 people in our sanctuary.   We baptized 12-year old Luke during the service (don’t worry—much thought was given to how to keep everyone safe).  As an elder, it was my job to charge the congregation to care for, to share with, and to learn from Luke as he lived life as a child of God.  

My wife came with me.  We sat in a pew far in the back, sang songs (she loudly, me softly) and celebrated communion with a chocolate chip cookie and a glass of water.  And I thought about the cross.  Or rather, I meditated on three images of the cross, each different, but all somehow fundamentally the same.

Not quite 22 years ago Laura and I moved to Wichita from Ohio, where we’d met while I was in grad school.  I had a one-year visiting position in Wichita State.  We were so sure we’d be moving on that we didn’t even unpack the washer and drier—they sat in a closet while I went to the laundromat.  We celebrated Easter that year at Grace Presbyterian Church.  No one told us that would mean contributing to the flower cross.  

Arriving Easter morning, we noticed a large cross on the front lawn, covered with flowers. Inside, bucket after bucket of flowers lined the halls.  That should have tipped me off.  But I’m sometimes (ok—usually) not as smart as I like to think I am.  So it wasn’t until the end of the service, when the pastor instructed us to grab a couple of flowers and add them to the cross, that I realized this was a participatory experience.  Laura and I often fail to follow directions, but that day we picked out a few flowers, walked outside and put them on the cross.  By now, the cross was beautiful, covered from top to bottom, left to right, with beautiful roses, lilies, and other flowers. It was a cross covered with life.  We quickly grabbed someone, gave them a camera (that thing inside your cell phone) and asked them to take our picture in front of the cross.

We have 21 pictures of that flower cross.  We have pictures of Laura and I, of Laura pregnant, of Laura, Jenna and I, then Laura, Jenna, Emily and I.  Many of those years, I got up at 5:30 in the morning (sleeping in, for me) to carry the cross out and place it in the deep hole that held it firm in the face of Kansas winds.

The flower cross reminds me of the power of traditions and community.  It gives me a sense of place and belonging.   Held firm by the soil around its base, it reminds me of how my faith gives me a firm foundation.  And the flowers remind me of the life and light and joy that Christ brings.  It is a powerful symbol, one that has inspired me and given me hope.

This year was different.

The worship planning team I’m on spent weeks trying to think through what Easter would look like without gathering together.  We wanted to reimagine our traditional symbols and rituals for a new, different time.  

So on Palm Sunday, Catherine (our pastor) invited Church members to spend the upcoming days creating their own Easter crosses.  The church sent out materials for children to make crosses to hang in their windows. Our neighbor used boards from an old fence to make our family a cross. And my daughter Jenna made it beautiful.

We put the cross up in our front yard on a very windy Easter morning.  As we attached the bungee cords that would hold it to a metal pole, a young couple pushing two strollers looked up, smiled and called out, ‘Happy Easter.’  ‘Happy Easter,’ we responded.

So we now have a 22nd picture.  I look at my family’s faces and remember the joy that Easter brings (I don’t smile in pictures. It’s a rule).  The new flower cross reminds me that traditions and rituals can carry us through hard times. It reminds me that community continues even when we’re apart. And it reminds me that Christ promises that he will always be with us, even if we worship via facebook live and plant the cross in our front yard.

I hope our 23rd picture will be in front of a flowered cross standing in the front yard of our church.  But I think I will remember this cross the most.

But it’s this last image of the cross that is the most meaningful to me.  This is the outline of the grass left after Jenna spray-painted our cross white (no, despite what my father thought, no one painted a swastika on my lawn. . .)

I like it partly because I’ve always preferred things that were understated.  I like Mission Impossible—but I love The Americans (if you haven’t seen it, go binge the entire series.  Now. I’ll wait.  Be sure to linger on the episode “Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?”).  While we have some colorful art in our house, it is filled with black and white photography.  I like this partially because it feels right to me.

But this cross doesn’t just feel right.  It calls to me.  It reminds me how often people in our world see the cross this way—present, visible, but partial, overwhelmed by the color and depth and sheer presence of everyday life.  God invites us to fill the cross in.  We paint in the empty space with our works and our faith and our love.   And this full, bright, living cross guides people to Christ.

OK.  Four images. I told you it was windy. . .

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