Stories of the Cross

I often wear a cross, and I usually put a little thought into which one I choose to wear on a certain day or for a certain event.  Today is Good Friday.  Today is the day of the cross.  Today I chose to wear the one I wear most often - a simple brown wooden cross on a black string.  Papa Santiago made it and gave it to me a very long time ago.  

I keep my crosses from El Salvador in a box.  Today, before I put the box away, I pulled out a handful of larger crosses.  I put them into my bag and brought them along to family camp.  Family camp is how my home church honors Good Friday.

This afternoon we were sitting outside.  I laid the crosses out on the picnic table in the warm sunshine.  "What are these?" someone asked.  "Crosses from El Salvador," I said, "and each one has a special story."  

 The Cross of Healing - the green cross with the blue flower emerging from the center was designed to mimic the logo for the 2003 ELCA Churchwide Assembly:  For the Healing of the World.  The cross was designed by a young Salvadoran man who was struggling to find his identity - as an artist, as a user, as a woodworker, as unemployed, as visually impaired, as tempted by gangs, as a man of faith.  In the making of two thousand small green crosses, the young man was somehow touched by God.  He had turned away from God.  God used the cross to bring him back.  His life was still messy, but he felt the presence of God.  "There is a mystery in this cross that we can't explain," his pastor said.  

The Youth Group Cross - our sister church pastor had come to visit.  Standing in my kitchen he handed me a chunky wood cross with a heart cut from the center.  "The youth have their ideas," he said, smiling and shrugging a bit.  The young man who made the Cross of Healing was helping the youth group to design a cross of their own. This was a prototype.  "I love(heart) Jesus."  Above the heart was a little drawing of Archbishop Romero.  

The Earthquake Cross - at the start of 2001 El Salvador was struck by two severe earthquakes.  In the wake of the destruction, Pastor Santiago Papa had scavenged through the piles of debris and gathered wood.  He created altar crosses from larger pieces.  From the small bits he fashioned cross necklaces.  The cross resting on the picnic table had long ago loaned its string to its sister cross - a small wooden cross, also an Earthquake Cross - which I am wearing around my neck.  The Earthquake Crosses are resurrection crosses - wood once broken and splintered fashioned into something new and beautiful. 

The Jesus Cross - "I was just playing around and experimenting with different things I could do with rope," said Pastor Joel.  The figure of Jesus was fashioned from bits of thin rope, twisted to create a body and woven to create clothes stiffened and affixed with glue to a simple wooden cross.  Jesus is, depicted as a campesino, a Salvadoran farmer.  The love which went into creating this cross was apparent on Joel's face as he handed it to me.  To create the figure of Jesus, to place him on the cross - I imagine this is a profound experience.  Joel does not get paid for doing the work of a pastor.  He supports himself by making small crafts to sell.  He is passionate about both professions.

The Pink Cross - Pastor Joel and his family also made the pink crosses.  One year, following the Mission of Healing, each worker received one of these crosses.  The flames of the Spirit, hearts of love, dove of peace, forgiveness in the cross and Jesus at the center represent the stations of the Spiritual Healing area we used during the mission.  Pastor Joel accompanies people in prayer, pausing only to play his flauta recorder.  When I look at this cross, I see Joel's arm around an older lady, his head bent praying with a teenage boy and I hear his music floating in the air.  This cross reminds me of what it means to love your neighbor.

The Cross on the Green String - this is the newest cross in the box.  Papa Santiago made it.  He put one around the neck of each member of the delegation which came to celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of our sister church relationship.  We were at his home, with his whole family for a special lunch, sitting around a couple of tables which were surrounded by his woodworking equipment.  He carefully cuts each cross by hand, sands it, stains it and chooses a string for it.  "Green is my favorite color," I whispered in his ear as he put the cross over my head.  "Mine too," winked and smiled.  He is a retired pastor who cannot stay retired.  He makes crosses.  He gives crosses away.  He just started a new mission church.  

Tonight we gathered in worship to remember why the cross holds special meaning for us and followers of Jesus.

This is the kind of life you’ve been invited into, the kind of life Christ lived. He suffered everything that came his way so you would know that it could be done, and also know how to do it, step-by-step.
He never did one thing wrong,
Not once said anything amiss.
They called him every name in the book and he said nothing back. He suffered in silence, content to let God set things right. He used his servant body to carry our sins to the Cross so we could be rid of sin, free to live the right way. His wounds became your healing. You were lost sheep with no idea who you were or where you were going. Now you’re named and kept for good by the Shepherd of your souls.
1 Peter 2:21-25 - The Message


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