Good morning. It’s always intrigued me that when we vote in elections we do so with a cross. When asked to fill in almost any other form, we tick the required category. But when we vote, only a cross will do. It is, of course, a diagonal cross. It’s said the Romans sometimes used that shape for crucifixions, as was the case for St Andrew, apostle and patron saint of Scotland. Hence the shape of the Scottish flag.
All political parties will be calculating the impact of last night’s debate on where we will place our crosses next month. I didn’t see it. Like many thousands of other Christians I was in church. On Maundy Thursday evening we remember the last supper Jesus had with his disciples before his betrayal and arrest, after which his disciples gave up and ran away. I fear it’s not exactly an encouraging story of party solidarity.
Even so, it reminds us that loyalties can be fickle and followers can lose faith. On the first Good Friday as Jesus hung on the cross he was mocked – “He saved others; he cannot save himself”. There’s an instinct in us, an unpleasant one, to knock people when they’re down. “Bringing someone down to size” we call it, seeking to turn it into a virtue.
Some years ago I was taking a service in a small retreat house in West Cornwall where the room we used as a chapel had a picture window through which you could see the Atlantic Ocean in all its majestic splendour. On the altar was a plain wooden cross. Only later did I discover that the cross was made from the wreckage of the Penlee Lifeboat, Solomon Browne, in which eight men died in 1981 when on a rescue mission. Those men died trying to save the lives of others in distress whom they had never met and did not know. Bathed in sunlight that simple cross was a reminder of the way in which sacrifice and self-giving are connected. The cross, so often a symbol of suffering and death can be a sign of love as well. Perhaps it’s no surprise we commonly make it the shorthand for kisses.
In times past those who couldn’t read and write marked documents, including marriage registers, with a cross. It was a sign of identity, so no accident that it also became the mark on our ballot papers. Good Friday is a sombre day when for Christians the identity of God is seen in costly suffering. A cross is a deeply serious symbol, rarely used light-heartedly or flippantly. That’s why it’s so good to use a cross when we vote. Only a cross will do.
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