While many Christian churches have crosses prominently displayed on the steeple and often dominating the front center of the chancel, this symbol is rarer in church architecture and decoration in New Church buildings of worship. The Bryn Athyn Cathedral does have a stained glass showing the Lord’s crucifixion in the chancel clerestory along with other illustrations of Gospel stories. A person familiar with the floor plans of many other cathedrals might notice that there seemed to be a conscious attempt to avoid a cross-shaped floor plan for the Bryn Athyn Cathedral. Someone might assume that the lack of this familiar Christian symbol perhaps reflects that we don’t put much emphasis on the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior and Redeemer. Hopefully this is not what is in our hearts and minds.
The organized bodies of the New Church have not made use of the cross as a dominant symbol and even less use of images of Jesus suffering on the cross because the church has wanted to convey a key idea that is different from traditional Christian doctrine. Traditional Christian doctrine asserts that Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross was THE act of redemption. This idea is part of the trinity of persons in God which is also key to traditional Christian doctrine. This traditional doctrine depicts God the Father as seeing all humans deserving of eternal punishment in hell because of their evil inheritance and choices. Traditional Christian doctrine states that because Jesus deserved eternal life due to His perfect life but allowed Himself to be put to death, His sacrifice is the means of God the Father giving admission to heaven to those who acknowledge Jesus’ sacrifice. So for many Christians Good Friday is an even more important event than Easter.
New Church doctrine, instead of focusing on this final chapter of Jesus’ natural life, asserts that from His earliest childhood Jesus was fighting against the temptations inspired by the hells. The purpose of this lifelong battle on His part was to ensure that each of us has the freedom to see the truth if we are willing and the freedom to choose to live in ways that are wisely caring for others. The passion of the Cross was the utmost degree of temptation endured by the Lord. He willingly went through this incredible natural pain and even worse spiritual struggle because He loves us and wants us to be able to choose a path that leads to heavenly usefulness and happiness.
As we approach our recognition of the events of the Lord’s last week leading to the triumph of Easter, may we feel a deep gratitude for the love reflected in the Lord’s birth, life, death and resurrection. May it inspire us in our own spiritual battles to be better human beings whose lives are a blessing to those we interact with.