‘Behold the wood of the cross,’ we say on Good Friday. ‘Touch wood,’ we say on any day of the year, reaching out for the nearest piece of wood as an extension of the wood of the cross. When we cross our fingers it is a sign of the cross we are making.
The cross is a tree. This tree represents the union of God and man in Christ, and the history that creates this union, and the gospel that reveals this history.
The cross is a representation of the figure of a man with his arms extended upwards. Moses held up his arms until the battle against the Amalekites was won and Israel was saved (Exodus 17.11.-12) in battle. ‘He opened wide his arms for us on the cross.’ His arms are up in welcome and to give us his protection. The Lord extends his arms out in order to save us and give us his shelter. He extends his covenant to include us, so we are covered and protected. He holds out his arms as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and as the Holy Spirit gives us his protection, portrayed in our West window as the dove with outstretched wings.
The Lord opens wide his arms for us also on occasions when his arms are not mentioned. In the Transfiguration on the mountain the disciples see the Lord radiant with glory, with Elijah on one side and Moses on the other. Peter wants to recognise their dignity by setting up awnings to give them some shade. By his reply the Lord indicates that it is he who gives Peter and the Disciples shelter. The Lord is our covering (kippur), the covenant and the atonement that keep us safe. He raises his arms so that we can all come in under his coat. Moses and Elijah, the prophets and the law, are two wings of this shelter. Elijah stands on one side of Jesus, Moses on the other, so that the three of them form a triptych, in which Elijah and Moses reflect different aspects of Christ, so that we can see better who Christ is because we can see these two aspects of his identity in these two other figures. The elements are no threat to the Lord, for they are simply his obedient servants. But the Lord gives us our shelter not so much from the elements, but from some of the worst consequences of the disorder in creation that result from our failure to rule it well. The Lord gives us shelter. He gives us a place to be. That place is with him. He is that place. Continue reading “Good Friday – The Tree of the Cross”