THE CROSS AND THE SWORD
I can still remember that moment of discovery as a child. I was at a friend’s house whose parents took a different view on what sort of toys were appropriate for children to play with than my own parents did. We were playing with toy swords, a sort of forbidden fruit in my pacifist Mennonite home. As we were playing, my friend held his sword upside down by the blade for some sort of dramatic effect. In that moment there was a flash of recognition as I realized the sword held in his hand resembled the cross I had seen in so many churches of my youth. I was amazed. I wondered if anyone had made this connection before and my very young mind buzzed with the possible implications of this (and possible justifications to my own parents if they found out).
The cross and the sword. Sadly this connection has not been missed by many who have come before us. Church history is full of people who have taken up the cross in their hands much like a sword, using the sword in their efforts to bring about the kingdom of peace. In his book, The Christian World, Martin Marty details the times when Christians sought to fulfill Jesus’ command to, “Go and make disciple of all nations,” through the halls of power and by means of the sword rather than by service and sacrifice. They did it – and we still can do it – for all sorts of reasons. They did it for personal safety. It is hard to live under the threat of physical violence whether from your neighbour or the neighbouring kingdom. It is better to have the king on your side so that you can live at peace within your own walls. Likewise they did it for what felt like ease and effectiveness. Bearing witness one person to another is time consuming and labour intensive. But convert the king and suddenly you find long line ups for things like baptisms and Christmas concerts and divinity school applications. So there have been those who have fashioned the cross into the form of the sword with all the associations that come with it.
But when we do this we turn the cross upside down just like we are turning the kingdom we are pursuing upside down. When we do this, the gospel of peace and the kingdom unlike any other, becomes the gospel of power preached in a kingdom much like any other. Instead, if there is any connection between the cross and the sword, it is better to see it as a sword turned down, a symbol of submission and surrender to another power – to God himself. A symbol of the power we serve not the power we wield. And a symbol of a power that is first and foremost turned against us if we should try to clasp it in our hands before it could ever be turned against anyone else. If we must see any connection between the cross and the sword, let it be this. And let us be the sort of people who bend our knee to it that we might serve those around us in love and humility. – Joe Welty