I wonder if you’ve had a chance to see the new display of our Anglian cross pieces in the Church? They date from the 8th century. There is still some work to do on the display but it is well worth a visit now.
I think it was our displays that got me thinking about Celtic crosses – that and St Patrick’s Day. I was first struck by Celtic crosses on a boating holiday on the Shannon river in Ireland, when we stopped at Clonmacnoise, the site of a monastery founded in the 6th century. And the setting for some of the oldest Celtic crosses in Ireland (probably from the 9th century), such as the Cross of the Scriptures (see photo below).
There is a theory that it was St Patrick (in the 5th century) who made the Celtic cross a powerful symbol for Christian faith as he preached the gospel in Ireland. The circle on the cross is said to be the sun, a formerly pagan symbol superimposed on the cross of Christ. In doing so, he boldly brought together the Celtic/pagan focus on creation and the unique redemptive work of Christ on the cross. The carved scenes on the faces of the cross tell the Christian story, alongside Irish culture/history/legend.
Like most stories about St Patrick, it’s unlikely to be historically true, but it nevertheless represents the Christian faith that the missionary St Patrick preached and lived. He challenged pagan practices on many counts but certainly honoured ways of relating to God through the created world.
Easter is a time for us to be brave in the way that St Patrick was brave. It is not enough to honour the creation. Like him we are to preach Christ crucified and risen. Without this there is no gospel. Creation does indeed reveal God’s “eternal power and divine nature” (Romans 1:20) but we need the revelation of Christ and the Scriptures, and his Spirit and the Christian community to guide us.
I may have said this before (!) but to me it doesn’t make sense to believe in the God who made the universe (and perhaps many universes) and yet struggle to believe that the same God can bring about the resurrection of Jesus, our resurrection and the healing of creation. These latter things seem to me no harder than creating the whole universe!
It’s true that we do not know or understand how God can do resurrection, how he can transform our dead-ness and recreate us from the dust that we will have become. But neither do we know or understand how God has made the universe. There may indeed have been a Big Bang but it can hardly have been the first thing, self-created. Creation and resurrection are both mysteries.
So let us celebrate the evidence we do have that Jesus rose from the dead – as witnessed in the gospels, and as the most likely explanation of what happened. And through the inner confirmation of the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, by whom we know we are God’s children.
The coronavirus pandemic has cruelly underlined our mortality, taken away our loved ones and highlighted our fear of death. But Jesus is the light of the world, shining in our darkness, and so we have a gospel to proclaim. Jesus came “to free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:15).
We do not seek to minimise the pain and trauma of the virus and the grief that is being experienced. We honour the extraordinary science and human endeavour that has produced a number of effective vaccines to combat the virus. We honour the sacrificial work of so many who have been heroic in the service of others, and we look to play our part in that. Yet ultimately we do not see death as a defeat. We see that death has been defeated.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No… I am convinced that neither life nor death… nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35-39).