The Supreme Court ruled on the “Peace Cross” just before we left for our vacation to the Washington, DC area. It was a case that pitted the American Humanist Association against the American Legion.
We went to the area to celebrate the wedding of one of Lorraine’s nieces—nothing at all to do with courts or monuments. We stayed with Lorraine’s sister and brother-in-law (the bride's parents). As our brother-in-law drove us to his home from the airport, even under the darkness of night, we could see that he was driving right by the shape of a cross.
A travel-weary Lorraine perked up. Is that the Peace Cross? She asked out loud. As news junkies, we knew about the case and the ruling. With family there, we saw some social media activity trying to garner support for the cross. One of their kids—our nephew—who lives in another state, posted on the ruling on his Facebook page. Though his views are left of center politically, his fond memories of the monument meant--we think--that he was pulling for its preservation.
So I've been reading up on this decision to allow this cross to stand on public land. I haven't found some of the comments of the Supreme Court justices to be all that encouraging.
Back when World War I ended, the cross was less of a Christian symbol and more of a public expression of support for the war.
Looking at it up close in real life, I think I got what the judges meant. No Scripture was on the cross. It wasn’t religious exactly, but historical. This really isn’t a Christian monument. Thinking historically, what other symbol would connect with the culture at the end of the first war. If it was built today, one of the judges suggested that the court and the public at large would likely have a different view.
But it's about the first World War, and the cross was synonymous with the war, not an expression of Christianity. Standing next to it, I get that.
But even as I write it, I’m saying to myself, “Wait. It’s the cross.”
It seems like everything is so partisan these days. Lydia and Chas, our family there, live in a community that’s overwhelmingly home to democrats. This is not an upper middle-class socially conservative mostly republican place like DuPage County. But it is a place where Jesus lives, where the church they are a part of is reaching out to the people around them.
I asked our brother-in-law what the community thought. He explained (and Lydia later affirmed) that except for the people bringing the suit, everyone wanted to keep it. Across the street from the Peace Cross stands a World War II monument as well as one commemorating a Revolutionary War battle that the colonialists (that’s us) lost. It’s a collection of patriotic monuments. Who wouldn’t want that?
If you look at the photo, you'll see a covering on the top of the cross, because it was being renovated and work stopped until the outcome of the court’s ruling. Lydia said that there had been local discussions about what to do with the cross if the court ruled against it…one idea was to take off both sides and just make it a tall column. And who would pay for such work? Fortunately, the renovation can resume.
With time, things change. The veterans of World War I died. This memorial remembers them. And given the SCOTUS ruling, it’s going to stay around. I am moved by the war memorials in D.C. They make me think about the sacrifice, the human toll in a war.
But does that give us peace?
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (I Corinthians 1:18)
We live in a world where people sue about a memorial cross, where some berate people with different political perspectives or religious beliefs, or we minimize the humanity of people from other countries or social classes or races or those who have not yet been born, the disabled and the elderly. Christians imprisoned, kidnapped, and churches blown up or closed down. We can be sure that we are not living in a world of peace.
I don’t mean any disrespect to the people who gave their lives in World War I or in any of the other wars. But none of their spilled blood gives me what I really need. It can’t atone for my sin. Don't get me wrong; I'm grateful for their human sacrifice.
Yes, I love the freedoms we have in this country, the liberty we live in the words we speak publicly, the freedom we know in the church in which we openly and freely worship, the fun we have as we watch the parade and cheer our STARS or march with Caring Network.
Make no mistake, however. The cross of Jesus is not a civic memorial. It doesn’t become a symbol or tradition of our country or local community. With July 4 festivities looming, I hope that’s not what the cross is for us.
The cross of Jesus doesn’t lose its power over time. To the contrary, it grows, it deepens. It affects every corner of our souls. It makes us family with people we’ve never met who live in countries where we’ve never been. If it's about a country, it's one that isn't on this earth.
Yet there are so many ways our eyes can be diverted from the cross, I mean, the real cross. That cross is harder to see on some days, maybe most days. But let's look at that one.
Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)
Mysteriously, the work of Jesus multiplies where the cross of Jesus is under most fire. More Christians than ever before. More martyrs than at any other time of history. The blood of Jesus spilled for us does what no fallen soldier’s blood can do. No law, no court ruling, no military force, no earthly father, no friend or family member can do what Jesus does. Even if they give their lives for us.
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)