The Romans, like all peoples who favor tyranny, could be exceedingly cruel. One of their forms of punishment, never used on formal citizens, was death by crucifixion. Hanging on a cross was intensely painful and led to a kind of suicide. Unless you were killed by the vicious scourging that preceded being nailed to the beams, you would die by suffocation. So long as your could stand the pain of holding yourself up by pressing upward against the iron spikes hammered through your wrists and feet, you would live. But when your strength gave out or you could no longer stand the horrible pain, you would stop trying to held yourself up and you would go limp, held up at that point only by the spikes in your wrists. That made it impossible to breathe and soon the lack of oxygen would end your pain and your life.
Jesus Christ, for the crime of upsetting established customs and rigid theologies, was scourged and hung on a cross. Now for Christians the cross is a constant reminder of God’s love for us. It reminds us that God so loves us that he has given his beloved Jesus, who knew no sin of his own, to accept all the sin and guilt and its consequences that you and I have deserved. The cross of Jesus’ agony is forgiveness in its most tangible, most costly form.
Jesus Christ has so identified with us in death that he has freed us to identify with him in his resurrection life, his eternal life. If the cross is to be any kind of decoration, it ought to be hung on our graves because by the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ our graves are open ended. They will not hold us. The body is dispensed with and left in the grave but spirit and soul are called into the presence of our gracious and loving Lord. We Christians call that the Gospel, which means the Good News that Jesus Christ the Crucified has conquered death and evil and established life and cleanness for all eternity. Because of the awful story of the suffering of the cross, we are invited to live in cleanness, beauty, and joy forevermore.
Justin Bieber has now a very small cross tattooed on his face. And hundreds of thousands of others consider the cross to be pleasant and pretty jewelry.
If you wear a cross in any form, it had better be a way of saying you identify with the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ and are willing to suffer to the point of death in serving God and your fellow human beings. Otherwise, the cross simply makes you incredibly insensitive to the role of the cross in history and faith.