We've all seen the beautiful, jeweled, stylized crosses hanging on the walls of people's homes, worn as jewelry, screen-printed on clothes and bags, and dangling from rear-view mirrors. Most of us probably even have one or two. We talk and we write and we sing about the beauty of the cross. But I have to wonder... do we ever stop to think about its ugliness?
Before it became the symbol of salvation and Christianity, before it was a jewelry item or wall decor, the cross was a torture device - the most brutal means of death a pagan empire could come up with. Like the song says, it was 'the emblem of suffering and shame', a synonym for cruel, agonizing death.
'Ugly' is an understatement.
If you think about it, the concept of sacrifice is the same way. The idea of someone completely undeserving being punished instead of someone who is deserving (and who then gets off scot-free) is, on its surface, ugly. Where is the justice in that? How can that be right?
I know what you're all probably thinking: Why am I asking you to look at the ugly side of things instead of the beautiful side? Well, I'll explain.
Beauty is only meaningful if we have something to contrast it with. What would the beauty of a summer rain mean if we hadn't seen the ugliness of parched, withering grass and dry, cracked earth? Would a beautiful, healthy baby mean as much if we had never seen a weak, diseased, deformed one?
Would summer rain and healthy babies still be beautiful? Absolutely. And we would still enjoy them. But we wouldn't appreciate their beauty half as much without something ugly to contrast it with.
Sacrifice and the cross are the same way. If Christ had snapped His fingers and poof! sin was paid for and death was vanquished, what would that mean to us? Even if He had died for us, but peacefully - in His sleep, free of any pain - what would that death mean to us?
He didn't, though. He loved us enough to embrace the ugliness of dying on a hideous, barbarian torture device, sacrificing His life for a stubborn, undeserving lot of ungrateful wretches. He knew the terrible, all-consuming power of the Father's wrath, and yet He was still willing to take it - all of it - on Himself, to save the creation He loved.
Yes, the idea that the Creator of the world had to die in order for His rebellious creation to be saved from their own selfish pride and stupidity is ugly. Sin is ugly. Death is ugly. The image of a completely innocent man dying the torturous death of a criminal is beyond ugly.
But the incredible, awesome love it took for Him to willingly do that... well, 'beautiful' doesn't even begin to describe it. And it becomes even more amazingly beautiful when we take a moment to look at the ugly side of it.
That's where the beauty of the cross comes from. That's the kind of God we serve: a God who can take a compilation of the ugliest concepts in existence and from them make the most beautiful outworking of love ever to take place.
And that's why we writers fill our stories with war, danger, disaster, trouble, and heartache rather than care-free stories of ease and pleasure. It's why happy endings are important: because as Christian writers, our stories are reflections on our King - a God who can take the biggest, ugliest disaster imaginable, and make it into something beautiful.
So this weekend, consider taking a few moments to look at the ugly side of Easter. It makes the beautiful side mean so much more.
Have a wonderful Easter, everyone. And here's a great Easter worship song to enjoy while you're at it.