Constantine was certain that God had come to him in a dream. The first “Christian” roman empire had looked up at the sun and witnessed a cross-like apparition along with the words, “ἐν τούτῳ νίκα” (In this, conquer).
Unsure of the meaning of this vision, Constantine went to sleep a couple nights later to be met by Christ who explained to him that he must use the sign of the cross against his enemies.
History tells us that Constantine marched into the Battle of the Milvian Bridge as a conqueror under the banner of the cross. Because obviously, when a warrior people hear they should use something against their enemies—it must be to vanquish them.
We’ll never know what would have happened if he was used the message of the cross against his enemies, instead of using it as a sacred conqueror’s emblem.
From that point on, the cross became a symbol of, not just of a religion, but of a triumphant, militant religion. It became status. It became fashion.
The cross isn’t a symbol
I should be pleased! In the message of the cross, Christianity is dramatically set apart as a philosophy of volitional service, an ideology running contrary to top-down power structures, and a theology of love through personal sacrifice—especially towards one’s enemies.
Think about it. The cross represents slow, torturous death. It’s a bizarre thing to festoon with diamonds and wear around your neck, use to peddle religious trinkets, or conflate with nationalism.
As a symbol, the cross represents a messiah who, instead of powerfully vanquishing his enemies, allowed them to violently kill him. And, through this sacrifice, set them free. It’s in this spirit that he instructs those who follow him to take up their own crosses.
Instead of representing sacrifice, the cross has become a token that stands for the religion of Christianity. Sure, it’s still used by people who are passionate about the cross, but not as a call to a certain posture towards the world. No, the cross is a brand like Target’s bullseye or Nike’s swoosh. Or it’s a badge we use to identify ourselves as Western culture’s mainstream conquerors.
The cross is a mission
We’re not conquerors; we’re servants. If our churches are going to sport 50-foot crosses, they better be cornering the market on sacrifice and service.
The cross isn’t a brand. It isn’t a piece of flair or a viral marketing trick . It’s a call many will hear but only a few will follow.
The cross beckons us to redemptive sacrifice in the service of all.
Hopefully that’s what the bejeweled crosses on your $200 jeans means, too.