A well-known British writer once said that he could never be a Christian because of the way we venerate the Cross. He regarded it as fetishising torture, which seemed just a bit sick to him. It is a wry chattering-classes remark, but doesn't come close to understanding the real meaning of the Cross.
What we remember week by week as we celebrate the Eucharist, and focus on particularly in Holy Week, is an act of self-giving so powerful that it inspires us to persist in countering the self-serving behaviour that is so deeply rooted in human nature.
The Cross is a reminder of what society is capable of when confronted with a force of goodness that it finds threatening to power, vested interests or the status quo. Christ crucified draws our attention away from ourselves and onto innocence made to suffer at the hands of humans. The Cross incriminates us in the daily injustices that the world continues to mete out to those who do not deserve them.
Even if the crucifixion was nothing more than a myth or a parable it would still give pause for thought about our actions and conduct. Imagine a story in which perfect goodness walks the earth. How would we respond? The answer of course is not to embrace it but to become so uncomfortable, so convicted by our own comparative shortcomings and weaknesses, that such goodness would have to be got rid off. For this reason I believe the Cross has something to say to people of all faiths and none.
Christians of course view the cross as more than myth. It embodies the extraordinary idea that a merciful God would place himself at the mercy of flawed and selfish humanity. This is an act of humility so potent that to be reminded of it whenever we break bread, and especially now in the events of Easter, cannot help but challenge us to reorientate our lives away from the gravitational pull of our own selfishness.
As we enter the season when the Cross is most contemplated I will see not only a generous God hanging there but also the suffering of all humanity, confident that the arms of Christ are reaching out to embrace us in another way of being.