At the cross I bow my knee
Where Your blood was shed for me
There’s no greater love than this
You have overcome the grave
Your glory fills the highest place
What can separate me now?
Or is it so great? I like the music, as we sang it in my church last night. But what about the words?
I am not thinking so much about the strange last line: separate me from what? After all, well taught Christians will immediately spot that this is an allusion to Romans 8:38-39 and “from the love of God” is implied.
The issue I have is with the first line that I quoted, “At the cross I bow my knee”. No, I don’t. I bow my knee only to God, and he is not on the cross. As the angel said to Mary (Matthew 28:6), “He is not here; he has risen”. OK, that was about the empty tomb, but surely it is all the more true of the cross: Jesus is no longer hanging on it, he is alive!
Protestant Christians give this as their reason for displaying empty crosses in their churches, rather than the crucifixes more typically used by Roman Catholics. But the cross is still given the central place in most church buildings, whereas the resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit are so often ignored in our church decoration.
The problem is that the Protestants have taken away from the image not the cross but Jesus! I am not actually advocating putting statues or pictures of Jesus in our churches, but there is a striking contrast here with the more typically Eastern Orthodox depictions of the living and reigning Jesus, such as Christ Pantocrator.
The danger with giving too much prominence to the empty cross is that it becomes an idol, something which we worship in place of the living God. It is not just a matter of the cross as a physical object or a symbol. In many branches of evangelicalism the cross, or what happened on it, is given so much prominence relative to the other events of salvation history that it becomes something of an idol in our thinking. Indeed surely it is this kind of thinking that lies behind the prominence we give to this symbol in our church buildings.
The bronze snake which Moses made in the wilderness was a great means of God’s deliverance (Numbers 21:8-9), and prefigured the cross itself (John 3:14). Nevertheless King Hezekiah had to destroy it because it had become an idol, an object of worship in itself (2 Kings 18:4). If the cross of Jesus has become an object of worship in itself, something which we bow down before rather than worshipping God, it too needs to be put in its proper place. If we bow down before the cross in a church building, it should only be because we recognise that God, the risen Jesus, is there.