Reviewing and renewing Biblical faith through story and study

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Clashing Symbols

Early this year, a decision by organisers of the “Big Day Out” sparked public debate by banning people from bringing the Australian flag to the event-—on the eve of Australia Day. Event organisers said it was not a ban; they would just confiscate any flag that happened to surface-—be it a shirt, bandana or whatever. Australian Prime Minister John Howard expressed his outrage. “The proposition that the display of the Australian flag should ever be banned anywhere in Australia is offensive,” he said.
Having been raised in the United States of America, I was baffled by the entire discussion. Just to see if I could still say it, I placed my hand over my heart as I drove and chanted out the Pledge of Allegiance I said every day in primary school as the flag was put in place: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands; one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Yep, it’s still there in the recesses of my mind.
Earlier this year I attended a church youth event with 13 nations represented—each country raised their flag and played their anthem. Amazingly, a group from New York had made the trip to New South Wales for the event. As they raised the flag of 50 stars in a blue sky, with stripes of red and white, I looked down to see one hand holding my hat, the other over my heart and was honestly surprised. How did that happen? I chided myself. I live in Australia now!
To ban the use of such an emblem of national pride is to devalue all those who have fought under that flag, literally, defending the principles upon which it is founded. I’ll admit it: Yanks are overpatriotic. We bleed red-white-and-blue blood. Imagine a Fourth of July without the flag! Even the fireworks burst in three colours. It was wired into us from the first day we went to school—you are American, this is your flag, be proud of both!

why symbols?
Symbols are important for identity and community. They tell me who I am and us who we are. Such is a flag and such is the cross. The flag connects us to our nation and the cross joins us to our King—a king who was lifted up on a cross to separate us from death. Thus the cross became the Christian symbol for victory. Death was swallowed up in the cross. The grave has lost its sting because Jesus absorbed sin’s penalty upon the cross of Calvary.
So crosses were placed on top of churches—where Christians meet; and at the front of sanctuaries-—where Christians kneel. But, due to the symbol being overused and misunderstood—to the point of worshipping the cross instead of the crucified Saviour—some Christians removed the cross from public display, but not from their hearts. The heart-to-heart connection to Jesus due to the victory on the cross is deep within the heart of every Jesus follower.
n The symbol of the cross was taken over by armies as they emblazoned it on their shields, swords and helmets. It became a fighting standard rather than a standard of freedom. Millions died facing the cross- on an approaching enemy soldier. Ironically, the entire point of the cross was that only one need die—God for humankind. The cross became a feared symbol, rather than a cherished one.
Today, the cross is again misrepresented as it is laced with diamonds, placed with pearls and worn as jewellery. The cross is the symbol of Christ’s victory, not the prize itself. As many pay a high price for a cross to wear around their neck, they pass by the invitation to shoulder the cross of Christ. “Take up your cross and follow Me,” He says. His is wooden. His is bloodstained.
Due to the misuse of the flag by extremist groups, there is occasional discomfort in using the flag for its intended purpose—as illustrated by “Big Day Out” organisers. The flag is the banner under which all fellow citizens stand in remembrance and national unity, as diverse as they may be. The flag is our common ground. To allow it to be disrobed and rebranded is unthinkable. And to disallow its general use is to admit such. This explains the Prime Minister’s outrage. The flag is the symbol of Australia and her people. It cannot be silenced.

the symbol of the cross
The same is true of the cross. It holds no power in and of itself. The cross was a device of torture and death, and was used by ancient governments to kill thousands of people. But Jesus, the God of the universe, willingly died upon a cross so we mortal creatures might be free to once again choose to follow Him. And thus the cross became a symbol of freedom rather than fear. Jesus turned death on its head, turned fear on its face and turned you and I toward Him. All on a cross.
n Christians love, honour and cherish Jesus. He is our Creator and our Recreator. He created us as His friends and designed this planet as our home. Then, when sin marred both the planet and the people, He returned to reclaim both. He died on the cross to pay fully the wages of sin-—death is no longer our master. And He returned to life to promise us life eternal with Him—the way He originally planned.
The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are the foundation of all that Christians believe. Without them, our faith is nothing. Jesus died to give us life. Without Him death reigns.
This is what Christians remember at Easter. We honour His death and resurrection through the symbolic three-day weekend of Friday to Sunday in memory of the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ—our Saviour.
Unfortunately, like the flag and the cross, this memorial weekend has been derailed by society at large. The life-giving sacrifice of Jesus has been replaced by a large, furry bunny that lays chocolate eggs. Explain that.
I heard a local shop owner proudly declare, “We’re petitioning the Easter bunny. We’re getting signatures from adults who would like the Easter bunny to bring them alcohol rather than chocolate.”
The customer in front of me laughed and said, “I’d sign that!”
When it was my turn to talk to the shop owner, I said, “I’d be careful making such a request of the Easter bunny.”
“Why’s that?” she asked.
“Well, we know where the chocolate eggs come from,” I said with a grin. “Where do you think the alcohol is going to come from?”
Unfortunately, that’s where Easter has gone for many Australians. It’s just a long weekend for eating chocolate and drinking beer. Hardly a fitting memorial to anything.
Once again a symbol of something worthwhile and honourable has been relegated to the rubbish heap. But, we mustn’t let it.
n Reclaim Easter for Jesus. Spend time reflecting on the death and resurrection of the Saviour. Consider the new life He has given you. Spend quality time with your family. Go to church.
Don’t let society ban your beliefs. Governments protect their flag from abuse and encourage its rightful use. Christians should, likewise, lift high the cross and honour their Saviour, Jesus. Live a life of personal sacrifice and spiritual freedom. Honour the memory of the cross and the empty tomb.
“I pledge allegiance to Jesus Christ and to the life for which He stands. One eternal kingdom, with freedom and mercy for all.”