The ambiguity of the empty cross
During the 40 days of Lent, Catholics prepared spiritually and liturgically to celebrate Easter. Yes, it was worthy. The Lord is risen! Because of those Lenten days, we are better disposed to celebrate the beauty and hope of the resurrection.
It is fascinating that as we transition from Lent into Easter, we tend to embrace a "switching" mode. We leave some things behind and embrace others. We switch from more sober to festive hymns. The color purple gives way to white and the many colors of the flowers that embellish our churches.
One risk of doing this automatically is to assume that something is to be left behind. Another is to fall into the trap of compartmentalizing our spiritual life as if our core religious symbols had a limited shelf or seasonal life.
As we enter into the fullness of the Easter season, it may seem that the cross, and what happened there, are now secondary when compared to the meaning of the resurrection. If Christ is risen, why should anyone look back on the cross? Why should we give any thought to the idea of suffering and death?
Yet, as it turns out, Easter is a most appropriate season to reflect also on the cross, more exactly the empty cross.
Christian spiritual writers and theologians for centuries have penned countless pages reflecting on the meaning of the cross. I have read some of them on this topic, including St. Augustine, Martin Luther, St. Teresa de Avila and Pope Benedict XVI, among others.
However, some of my favorite theologians of the cross are the Hispanic women and men with whom I regularly worship. They do their best theology of the cross mainly by picking up a large wooden cross and carrying it for an hour while we walk the Stations of the Cross.
They fashion some of their best theological thoughts as they plan, rehearse and perform the re-enactment of the Lord's passion on Good Friday. An unspoken theology is communicated when one encounters crosses in their homes, cars and even the personal items they wear. The cross often serves as a memorial symbol.
Through such practices, these theologians of the everyday, as I call them, have taught me a few things about the cross that can enrich everyone's spiritual journeys during Easter.
Carrying the cross is a constant commitment in the life of the Christian disciple. Whether Lent or Easter, in season or out of season, carrying the cross is not necessarily a choice but a way of life.
The resurrection follows the cross and what happened there. This has nothing do with establishing a cause-effect relationship between these two realities. Neither is it a denial that God could have done things differently. It is simply the acknowledgement that suffering and death are part of our limited lives.
Yet, God has promised us all to rise to new life with Jesus, the Christ, a life that begins here and now.
The cross is a captivatingly ambiguous symbol. When embraced to evoke life, it does not cease to remind us that it was an instrument of death. When embraced to remind us of the injustice that was the suffering of death of Jesus, it points to the hope of the resurrection, God's most decisive statement in the history of salvation.
During Easter, we all are invited to contemplate the symbol of the cross and its ambiguity as part of one spiritual and theological continuum. There is no "switching" in the sense of leaving something behind and then embracing something completely new. It is just one mystery altogether.
- Hosffman Ospino is assistant professor of theology and religious education at Boston College's School of Theology and Ministry.