Thursday, September 8, 2011

WTC Memorial: The Offense of the Cross

It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years since the dark and horrid day that was 9/11. Most of us remembers as Alan Jackson so beautifully sung “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning that September day.” One of the iconic images to emerge from among the rubble of the World Trade Center after the 9/11 attacks was two ton section of cross beams that looked like a rugged cross. (picture above) This cross became a beacon of hope of Christian rescue workers and mourners. In 2006 the cross was temporarily moved from ground zero to nearby St. Peter’s Church and a plaque was placed on it that read:

Now the group, American Atheists, claiming a violation of church and state, saying its inclusion "constitutes an unlawful attempt to promote a specific religion on governmental land.” They have sued in an effort to block the cross from being included at the World trade Center Memorial and Museum.

These atheists further claim: “the mere existence of the cross has brought on headaches, indigestion, even mental pain.”

If you’re an atheist how does ”A cross formed by two intersecting steel beams that survived the Twin Towers collapse on 9-11″ cause you such pain and suffering that it can’t be displayed in a museum with other artifacts taken from the site.

I can understand going to the museum and seeing the artifacts bringing up feelings of pain. But if you are an atheist the cross shouldn't’t bring up any more pain than anything else. You don’t believe, right?

Unless there is more spiritually going on than “meets the eye.”

Check out below this article I recently ran across that is worthy of much consideration especially in light of this protest over a cross shaped beams. It’s written by Ryan Halliday and appeared as a web-only piece at Christianity Today under the title 9/11 Cross Should Offend. Why the 9/11 Cross Should Offend All of Us

Why the 9/11 Cross Should Offend All of Us

In a recent debate surrounding a cross displayed at the World Trade Center 9/11 memorial site, both sides agree on at least one point: the complaints by atheist litigants that the presence of the cross has caused them to suffer “dyspepsia, symptoms of depression, headaches, anxiety, and mental pain and anguish” are less than credible. Even the commentators who have argued against the inclusion of the cross in the 9/11 memorial have nevertheless ridiculed these purported symptoms, assuming they are nothing but a thinly-veiled attempt at establishing legal standing.

But Christians should recognize that these seem to be the sort of symptoms many sane and thoughtful persons experience upon encountering an unwanted vision of the cross. Far from being silly, these four atheists seem to take the cross more seriously than many believers do.

Because the cross tells the world’s strangest story in an image, it has always provoked a variety of responses, most of which have been negative. In the first century, the idea that the crucified Jesus was God-in-the-flesh was considered, depending on one’s background, either a scandal or a joke. (As the Jewish-turned Christian theologian St. Paul put it, “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”) A weak, suffering deity held little appeal and would have been easily dismissed, were it not for the early Christians’ insistence that the death of Christ was everyone’s problem.

Jesus’ first followers did not only assert that God came to earth and died, but also that culpability for his death was universal. “This Jesus, whom you crucified,” were the words chosen by St. Peter to conclude the first Christian sermon, directed to an ethnically diverse crowd, most of whom were not even present in Jerusalem on the day of Jesus’ death.

For the two millennia since Jesus’ resurrection, Christian orthodoxy has been consistent in repeating this same message: the whole world stands equally guilty of committing history’s greatest atrocity, an atrocity in light of which the events of 9/11 pale in comparison. God came to earth, and we killed him.

The Book of Acts records that upon hearing this indictment for the first time, many of Peter’s listeners were “cut to the heart.” Understandably so—the charge is enough to turn the stomach, darken the mind, and plunge the heart into despair. Or, in other words, Peter’s words were enough to cause “dyspepsia, symptoms of depression, headaches, anxiety, and mental pain and anguish.” The atheist litigants have called the 9/11 cross “an ugly piece of wreckage,” arguing that it speaks of “horror and death.” On the basis of the New Testament, these statements are difficult to contradict.

But if the image of the cross represents humanity’s greatest collective failure, why would a nation cling to it as a sign of hope in the days after 9/11? The exchange that follows Peter’s sermon sheds some further light.

When asked to suggest a course of action, Peter advised his hearers, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins”—advice which makes little sense unless one assumes certain premises. These premises, implicit in the Christian religion from day one, were intricately explored over the next several decades in the writings of St. Paul, who advanced what would become the best-known but least-understood tenet of Christian theology: that somehow the death of the perfectly sinless Christ was itself the event which atoned for all the wrongdoing of the sinful human race.

If true, this turns the cross into a profound paradox. The same event that condemns humanity also justifies it, standing at once as damning evidence of guilt and a doorway to forgiveness and innocence. What’s more, the very episode that shows humanity at its worst shows God at his best, as he transforms an act of wickedness into a display of mercy and love. It is difficult to imagine themes more relevant to the attacks of September 11.

Suppose God himself has suffered and died at the hands of evil men. Suppose God himself has shown the capacity for taking what was intended for harm and using it for good. Might this affect the way we ourselves face evil and suffering? Might this be a source of strength to someone who is waist-deep in ash and rubble, trying to loosen bodies from steel and concrete?

For the person who accepts this narrative, the cross is the only thing that makes sense in the face of a senseless tragedy. But for the person who rejects it, the cross serves as a reminder of an offensive and seemingly absurd accusation, adding insult to injury. The trouble with the cross is that it refuses to be the universal symbol of beauty that some would make it out to be—it speaks life to those who believe, but death to those who do not.

No wonder people disagree about where it should be displayed.

Ryan Holladay is pastor of Lower Manhattan Community Church, which meets two blocks from the World Trade Center site.

Friends, there is also something to keep in mind as our nation will observe the 10th Anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Yes, it is right, much like we do with Pearl Harbor, that we, on September 11, remember and honor those who died on that day. We continue to ask God for His continued blessings upon our nation and for those who help keep our nation safe at home and abroad.

Now it just so happens that the 10th anniversary falls on a Sunday. And as meaningful and important as the day is being the 10th Anniversary of 9/11, the day is far more meaningful as the Lord’s Day. As much as the honoring of those who died is, the honoring of the Savior who died for us is more importantem>.

God bless
Robert Prater