The Symbolism of the Cross: a multi-generational activity

People often call me “Grace.” It’s an honest mistake because I wear a simple silver necklace with the word “grace” written in script. The necklace from a dear friend when I was approved for commissioning as deacon. When people who know my name ask about it, I might say, “I prefer this to wearing a symbol of torture and execution around my neck.”

I don’t want to be flip. The cross is the universal symbol of the Christian faith. But teens and tweens who think in black and white are often confused or turned off by the cross. For this reason I have done several multi-generational gatherings where we talk about the meaning of Jesus’ death and then transform wooden crosses in order to reclaim a more hopeful meaning. Here’s what has worked well:

Gather together around tables:

Sharing personal stories of hope and transformation is powerful, and better done in groups of about 8 around circle tables.  Each table has a lit candle to focus. Sometimes I have served dinner at this event. I give the tables these questions to discuss as they arrive:

  • As you arrive, talk with others about where you see crosses. Do you see them often outside of church? Do you have any particular feelings when you see a cross?
  • What are the symbols of hope you see in the world?
  • Create a 3-sentence story about Christian hope. What would you tell your friend if they didn’t pass a big exam or lost their pet….

Tell the Story of the Last Days of Jesus’ Life:

Have someone who is a gifted storyteller share the story, beginning at Palm Sunday. If you are serving dinner, you may want to tell the story up to the Last Supper and then break for dinner. When Jesus dies, have the tables extinguish their candles.  Potential dinner table questions include:

  • How do you define hope?
  • Where does hope come from?

Decorate Crosses with Symbols of Transformation:

Tell the story of the resurrection, then discuss symbols of hope and transformation.

  • Create a list of words that come to mind when you think of the cross. What are other symbols of life and transformation?
  • Share times when something good came out of a hopeless situation. What did God do?

Give the following directions to be done as people discuss their stories of hope and transformation. Be sure to have enough crosses of varying sizes and shapes for small groups to work on together, with one side blank and the other painted black. 

“We will be turning these crosses, a symbol of death and torture, into something beautiful. They were made from scrap wood that was going to be thrown away. Before you begin painting, think of symbols of hope and transformation that are important to you and your story. I might paint plants, because for me, the way that plants die in the winter but then come back each year is meaningful to me. You might have other symbols- a sunrise, butterflies, things that we think of for Easter. But, it doesn’t have to be.”

Display the Crosses for the Congregation:

On Good Friday, the black side of the crosses can be displayed in the sanctuary or elsewhere in the church. On Easter morning, display the colorful sides for all to see – on the lawn or in worship.

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