We see the power of symbolism when we see Captain America with a costume of the American flag. We see the power of symbolism in the Church, in all its history, as well.
When it comes to symbols, none are more powerful or recognizable around the globe than the Cross, whose universal exaltation we celebrate today. During Jesus’ time, the Cross was already a recognizable symbol, but of punishment, humiliation, and death. After Christ’s Crucifixion and subsequent Resurrection, the Cross came to symbolize something much more, the ultimate triumph over death. This message was so powerful that the “Good News” of Christ’s victory, as it was now called, spread like wildfire through the Roman Empire and eventually the entire world. The Cross immediately became a recognizable symbol of victory and of love, and of this new faith which was taking the world by storm.
The earliest Christian symbol was the fish, but the one which became most prevalent, most quickly, was the Cross. The tradition of Christians making the sign of the Cross, for example, was not only meant to be a blessing and prayer, but also a way for Christians to identify themselves to one another. Later, when Constantine became emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire after the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312, legend tells us that the morning of his triumph he saw a vision of the Holy Cross in the sky, and a voice that said, “Through this, victory.” Constantine had the cross painted on his men’s shields and banners, and ultimately he was victorious, as the voice said he would be.
His mother, Saint Helen, understood the Cross’ power and built a church called the Resurrection on Golgotha in the early 300s. Saint Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, says “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.” (1:18) Later on, he also says, “we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness,” (1:23) acknowledging that, even from his time in the mid-late 1st century, the Cross as a symbol had already come to mean different things to different people.
When referring to the Cross, Saint John Chrysostom said:
“For through the Cross we have been delivered from enmity, and through the Cross we have been joined in friendship to God. Through the Cross we have been freed from the tyranny of the devil, and through the Cross we have been delivered from death and destruction.”
The above was written nearly four hundred years after Christ’s ministry on earth, and this was coming from the archbishop of the imperial city! Clearly, anyone can see that this symbol of the fledgling Church and every Christian had made inroads into every sphere of life, as it still does today. The Cross has become the ultimate symbol for so much of the world, demonstrating how great a symbol it is.
Let us never forget that when we wear it around our necks, make the sign of the Cross over our bodies or are using the Cross in our prayer life, that we are holding the most powerful symbol that has ever existed and can ever exist in the history of mankind. It is not there to be an abstract concept, but something for us, and was done for us.
The flag that Captain America has worn as his symbol has made an impact at many points in his near eighty year history. The flag itself has been a powerful symbol for centuries, right down to the present day (as seen most recently in the NFL and protesting). Yet the cross is a powerful symbol for all nations of the earth, and has been for millennia. As strong and powerful of a symbol as a flag is, the Cross is something even bigger and more powerful.
And we wear it around our necks every day.
Let us never forget the great strength and power that we wear, even in our moments of weakness. To quote Chrysostom one more time, “what then is more precious than the Cross?”
May its power guide us and lead us every day of our life. Amen!
“Now when they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter… and the people complained against Moses saying, ‘What shall we drink?’ So he cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree. When he cast it into the waters, the waters were made sweet.”
– Exodus 15:23-25