I find it fascinating what symbols communities rally around. Many of the African-Americans that were freed from slavery in our nation sought solace in music, giving us such rich deposits such as the blues and negro spirituals. The blues were an act of cultural rebellion where their deplorable life-circumstances were described, but described in song. It was as if they were saying, “This life is oppressing me but I refuse to let it steal my voice.”
And with the recent Supreme Court ruling last week, we are seeing the LGBT community rallying around their symbol, the rainbow flag. The rainbow flag’s original purpose was simple. According to its original designer Gilbert Baker, “We needed something that expressed us. The rainbow really fits that, in terms of: we’re all the colors, and all the genders and all the races… It’s a natural flag; the rainbow is in the sky and it’s beautiful. It’s a magical part of nature.” And while it seems that the goal of the rainbow flag is still to represent inclusion, the word that is heard most often from both the media and the LGBT community is “pride”. There are gay pride marches and LGBT pride parades and t-shirts and bumper stickers and… And regardless of one’s convictions about homosexuality or the various gender issues at hand, the one thing that comes across strongly is that the LGBT community wants to display their pride in their identity.
But there is another community that was once a minority. Its members were misunderstood and maligned in the public square. They were called atheists, cannibals, and incestuous people bent on insurrection against the state. They were persecuted and many times had to gather in secret. And they also had a symbol that they rallied around, too. But the symbol that gave them a focal point was a symbol of their leader’s execution. It was not their pride that they rallied around but their shame. They gloried in their shame. They gloried in a Roman cross. This people, these Christians, who gloried in their shame, did so because they understood that it was precisely their guilt and shame that was taken by their leader, Jesus of Nazareth, on that cross. And when Jesus died, so did their source of guilt and shame.
Ever since, it has been the cross that has been the primary symbol around which Christians have rallied. We glory in the identity of another, not in our own. Our symbol reminds us that it is precisely who we are that cost Jesus His life. The glory comes when our primary identity is united to the One who bore our shame. The glory comes when we are by faith united to his death, and our natural identity lies dead at the foot of that cross. Yet our symbol is an empty cross, reminding us that we don’t serve a dead God, but one who lives forever more. The glory comes when our pride dies, when we enter into the shame Christ bore, and when we give over all we are to His resurrected reign. As C.S. Lewis famously said in the closing lines of Mere Christianity, “Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”