Last century (!) I arrived as vicar in Otley. It was 1999. At the end of that year, to mark the beginning of the new millennium, the Chevin cross was first erected. It was the first time the new cross (crafted by Brent Thompson) had been raised on the Chevin, and it was the first and only time it has been raised up for New Year. Normally it only goes up over the Easter period.
Before coming to Otley, my family and I had been living and working among Sudanese refugees in Northern Uganda. One of the things that amazed us, again and again, was how there were always plenty of stories of hope in the bleakest of situations. For all Christians, the cross is the great symbol of hope, but especially for those experiencing great suffering. It tells the story of a God who made us and loves us and suffers with us. A God who shares our life and death.
The wood that made the Chevin cross was rescued from the debris of the massive IRA bomb of 1996 in Manchester. A symbol of hope emerging from the bleakest of situations. And drawing together, for me, the very different worlds of Sudan and England, because we all need light in the darkness whether we are grieving over the death of a loved one here or in a refugee camp in Northern Uganda.
Jesus’ cry from the cross (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) is his own cry, but it is also humanity’s cry from around the world and through history. It is a cry we have probably all made at some time from the depths of our pain. We experience the apparent triumph of evil. It seems that God is defeated. Darkness and death have overcome. But the triumph of evil is short-lived and ultimately an illusion. On the third day Jesus rises to new life. The cross is empty because Jesus is alive.
So the cross reveals much more than ‘God with us’ in our darkness. It is a symbol of his victory over death and evil. Jesus rose to new life with a resurrection body, the first-born of a healed creation. He has pioneered the way to heaven, the kingdom of God, and promises to prepare a place for us.
Throughout my time here I have met countless people who have found the cross on the Chevin an inspiration. Many of those people are not ‘churchgoers’, but the cross speaks deeply to them and they respond. Many of the folk who turn up to put up the cross or take it down are not ‘churchgoers’ either. But each one is known and cherished by God.
Thus the cross draws us to God and draws us together from all our various ‘worlds’, lighting our darkest places and inviting us to face the future with hope. Always with hope.
With much love,