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Thought for the Week – 2nd April 2023

The Scandal of the cross

And so, after the 40 days of Lent, we enter Holy Week. Depending on your spirituality, a week of deep devotion culminating in the joy of the Resurrection, or a celebration of Hot Cross Buns and chocolate Easter Eggs.  Some of us manage to hold both aspects together. Perhaps it is significant that it has been easier to secularise Easter Sunday, with a popular symbol that has only a tenuous connection with the Christian story of resurrection compared to Good Friday; Hot X Buns anyone? The cross remains in popular culture a symbol of Christianity. Not all are comfortable with this. The journalist and a vice-president of Humanists UK, Polly Toynbee questions “Why wear the symbol of a barbaric torture?” But the cross persists, as a symbol of hope and kindness.

Polly Toynbee’s bafflement at the cross is as old as Christianity. St Paul, probably writing just over 30 years after the crucifixion spoke of how the cross was foolishness to the opponents of Christianity; Christ crucified was a stumbling block to Jews and folly to the non-Jews. The Greek word that is often translated as “stumbling block” is “skandalon”, from which we get “scandal”. It is actually derived from the word for a trigger of a trap, that would catch its victim by the leg. However you look at it, it seemed at best bizarre to Paul’s contemporaries that an instrument of execution could become the tool of a God who works and wins by love. But Paul understood; the foolishness of God destroys the wisdom of humankind, the weakness of a God who rules from a cross is stronger than all the powers of humanity and darkness. That is why I wear the symbol of a barbaric torture.

Rev David Poyner