Apr 1, 2013

The way of the Cross

In the streets of La Caramuca

“Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:27

It would have been more fitting to have had the procession of the Cross on Palm Sunday. However, our visitors from Barquisimeto were not due to arrive until the following day, so it became part of the opening worship for our three-day regional retreat for preteens on Monday.

We had the cross made for the processional. It is a plain, wooden cross three meters in height (that's an inch and a fraction short of 10 feet). I carried it in front of the group as we marched around Barrio Las Lomas, singing hymns. The cross did not seem so heavy at first, but my arms and shoulders were aching at the end of the trail.

The Ark of the Covenant, symbol of the promises God made to Israel at Mount Sinai, was solemnly carried in front of the people of Israel as they crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land (Joshua, chapters 3 and 4) and also before the people in a march around the city of Jericho (Joshua 6). When King Solomon had built the first Temple of Jerusalem, the ark was carried in solemn procession into the innermost part. Processions of the cross reflect this Old Testament imagery.

Christians began marching in the streets behind a processional cross in the fourth century A.D., when such demonstrations became tolerated in the Roman Empire. The processions moved from church to church, with participants, alternately saying or singing prayers, psalms, and litanies.

The procession of the Cross also embodies another metaphor from the ancient world used in both the Old and New Testaments, that of the triumphant king's victory parade. Isaiah 60:11 says.

Your gates shall be open continually;
day and night they shall not be shut,
that people may bring to you the wealth of the nations, with their kings led in procession.

Also 2 Corinthians 2:14:

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.

Processions of the cross, with either a plain cross or a crucifix, also have a long and honorable history in Lutheranism. The Reformers objected specifically to the Corpus Christi procession, because it involved actual public display and adoration of the host (communion bread). They did not, however, object to the idea of a procession of the Cross. Many Lutheran churches have never abandoned the practice of processionals, especially on festival days. For it is a principle of our confession that the practices of the ancient church, if they do not conflict with the clear teaching of Scripture, should be preserved to every extent possible.

In Venezuela, of course, one must walk a certain fine line. On the one hand, many of the evangelical/pentecostal sects here consider even the display of a plain cross to be too “papist”.It is not our intention to give offense, or create a stumbling-block for the faith of these people (per 1 Corinthians 8:13), but for Lutherans this position is completely unacceptable. The cross, and not just the unadorned cross, but especially the crucifix, is the central symbol of the faith, the visual expression of what itś all about. We call our theology the “theology of the cross”, because Christ's suffering and death on the cross was His victory and ours. He atoned for our sins on the cross and thus gained for us the hope of eternal life. Certainly, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17), but to celebrate Easter without Good Friday is to preach a gospel of “cheap grace,” of salvation without atonement.

On the other hand, in popular Roman Catholic piety here (as elsewhere in the world), people often will pray to the image of the Crucified. Thus, to avoid tempting anyone to the sin of idolatry, we chose a plain cross for our procession.

Miguelangel Perez leading a Bible study.
Fun for preteens of all ages

Our guests during the first three days of Holy Week included Miguelangel Perez, pastor of El Paraiso Lutheran Church in Barquisimeto, and Sandra Lopez, Katharina Ramones and two young girls from Nueva Vida Lutheran Mission in Barquisimeto. The rest of the children attending the retreat were from our neighborhood in La Caramuca. Total attendance was around 50 people.

Tuesday was devoted to Bible study and activities reminiscent of vacation Bible school. The theme of the retreat was “Timothy: A Good Soldier of Christ Jesus” with special emphasis on 2 Timothy, chapter 3, verse 15:

“And how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

Wednesday's event was an outing to the Paguey River. The people from Barquisimeto had all returned home by end of day Wednesday, but for us Holy Week activities were not over. We observed Good Friday with a 5 p.m. Service and celebrated Easter as part of our regular Sunday service. Children who attended the Easter service received leftover watermelon and other goodies.
A good share of the whole group
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