The cross in public life

The Wayside Cross is a huge tradition in Canada and Europe, where it has abounded for over a thousand years. “In Quebec, and Europe, a wayside cross marks a place where the members of a community gather to meet and pray, and often commemorates an important moment in their communal history.” Charles Bourget reports that there are 3000 wayside shrines dotting the countryside in Quebec, however, many of them are falling into disrepair because the tradition is waning. I wrote yesterday about the fate of one American Wayside Cross in East Greenwich RI.

Below, a wayside cross in Europe
In America, the tradition never really caught on. They are seen occasionally, especially in central rural Wisconsin. Wayside crosses dot the landscape there. In Bedford NY, one was erected in 1936 and it was hoped that the sight of it would invite the prayers of the passersby. In 1922 East Greenwich, it was hoped by “those who placed this beautiful memorial to an exemplary life feel that it will indeed be a light by the way and a guide post to Heaven.” By and large wayside crosses are not seen much and those that do exist are under increasing challenge.

The point of the cross in public life is that it would point the way to Jesus. That upon seeing it, thoughts of Him and the Good News would ruminate in the mind, and through the strength of the Holy Spirit, those thoughts would germinate. For people seeing such displays, who have already heard the Good News, perhaps its sight would loosen the bonds around the heartstrings and their conviction would grow, as in the allegorical depiction of Christian at the Wayside Cross.

A wayside cross was a pivotal point in the very famous book Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, published in 1678 and has remained on the ‘bestseller list’ ever since, never having been out of print. The passage is below:

“He ran thus till he came at a place somewhat ascending, and upon that place stood a cross, and a little below, in the bottom, a sepulchre. So I saw in my dream, that just as Christian came up with the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble, and so continued to do, till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more. Then was Christian glad and lightsome, and said, with a merry heart, ‘He hath given me rest by his sorrow, and life by his death.’ Then he stood still awhile to look and wonder; for it was very surprising to him, that the sight of the cross should thus ease him of his burden. He looked therefore, and looked again, even till the springs that were in his head sent the waters down his cheeks. Now, as he stood looking and weeping, behold three Shining Ones came to him and saluted him with Peace be unto thee. So the first said to him, Thy sins be forgiven thee;”

It is amazing that the sight of the cross should ease a person’s burdens, but it does, for the person who is ready to receive grace. For every individual on the planet, there comes that critical moment, upon which the eye falls to the cross and a decision is made either aye or nay. The cross to the unsaved does make one’s soul burn, satan would have it so. But in the process of that the soul-singe the cross is emblazoned on the mind and heart and soul, thereafter to linger as a brand. It stays there, to rankle. Opponents of Christ do not want that rankle, and therefore strive to remove the cross from all areas of life except homes and churches. The right to display the cross in public life is waning. One cannot even wear a cross around one’s neck in Britain, anymore.

British Airways check-in worker Nadia Eweida has lost her appeal against a previous court ruling upholding the airline’s decision to ban her from wearing a cross necklace with her uniform at work. Ms Eweida was dismissed without pay in 2006 when she refused to cover up her cross necklace behind her neck scarf. She argued before the Employment Tribunal in 2008 that she should be allowed to wear her necklace because Muslim and Hindu employees were permitted to wear headscarves and turbans but the Tribunal ruled in favour of BA. Lord Justice Sedley upheld the Employment Appeal Tribunal’s November 2008 ruling determining that the airline’s ban did not constitute religious discrimination.

Christian nurse removed from frontline duty for wearing cross necklace
A Christian nurse was taken off frontline duties after she refused to take off a necklace bearing a cross. Shirley Chaplin said she believed The Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust Hospital was trying to prevent her from expressing religious beliefs. But the trust said the policy had nothing to do with the crucifix specifically, and was motivated by health and safety concerns about patients grabbing necklaces. Mrs Chaplin, 54, from Exeter, said: ‘For about 30 years I have worked in the NHS and nursed patients day and night and on no occasion has my cross caused me or anyone else any injury – and to my knowledge, no patient has ever complained about me wearing it. The Trust said necklaces of all kinds were banned but admitted there may have been ‘lapses’.

That’s Europe, you say. It could not happen in America. Sure it can. This month in Missouri, FedEx suspended a worker on grounds that her cross violated a dress code against wearing of personal insignias.

The public crosses I saw during the course of my life affected me and were sure steppingstones on my path to the Lord. I mentioned the initial event that started me thinking about the public life of the cross in yesterday’s post, the RI Wayside Cross that stood at the intersection of my street. I saw that cross a lot growing up. Each time I did, I exhibited varying amounts of offense at varying times until I moved far away to a godless state and never no more was troubled by public displays of the cross.

The public crosses that stand alongside roads, hang round our necks as jewelry, appear on cars and trucks and shipgoing vessels, all penetrate the web of dark sin in which the the unsaved labor. If we see through a glass darkly, they see not at all, and the cross is the only light that can and will penetrate that darkness.

Brother and Sister, if you own a cross as a tie clip or jewelry, wear it. If you should be of a mind, erect one at the edge of your lawn. Do not let the Christian cross become a fading symbol here in the United States. “There was a time in Pakistan when it was common to see cross pendants around the necks of people on the streets. But now, that sight has been reduced to a rare glimpse in Karachi’s Bohri Bazaar, only when Christmas is around the corner. The decreasing visibility of the cross here underscores the challenges the Christian community is facing.”

The visibility of the cross is decreasing in America too. Don’t let it. The cross was a public declaration that God’s righteousness was satisfied. (Romans 3:24-25; Hebrews 9:15). We should be no less public. In doing so, He is lifted up.