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I am writing this reflection on Thursday, which is Holy Cross Day. Growing up in a non-denominational church, I don’t have a long memory of celebrating the powerful symbolism of the cross on this designated day. Of course, the cross was central to my understanding of Christ’s mission and redemption, but whenever I hear Holy Cross, coming from Northern Ireland, my mind goes to a shameful episode in Northern Irelands past, known as The Holy Cross dispute. In the early 2000’s in a segregated part of North Belfast, tensions were incredibly high between Protestant and Catholic communities. Accusations that Protestant homes were being attacked led to members of that community picketing and protesting families on the way to the Catholic Holy Cross Primary School, which was in the Protestant part of the area. It escalated quickly and became very ugly with vile insults being hurled, soldiers on the street, blast bombs going off as children tried to walk to school. It almost seems surreal thinking back on it, did that really happen? Like most things in Northern Ireland, looking back at who is responsible or who is to blame, it becomes clouded in many claims and counter claims, where the whole episode gets mired in tit-for-tat accusations and counter narratives.
This evening at Evensong we will say the words of the creed which declare that Jesus Christ was crucified, died, and was buried, descended to the dead and on the third day rose again. But it is curious that before we say this, we will mention Pontius Pilate. Isn’t it odd that Pilate makes it into the creed? Of all the people within the gospel narrative, he is included? Pilate himself is a divisive figure. Is he solely responsible for sentencing Jesus to the cross? The creed quite bluntly says Christ was ‘crucified under Pontius Pilate’ – although St Augustine says that when Pilate wrote on the cross ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews’, he really meant it. In the Ethiopian and Coptic Church they revere Pilate as a saint. The more we think about lines in the creed, sometimes it raises more questions than answers.
Maybe what we can say is that the inclusion of Pilate in the creed illustrates that our faith is not purely abstract and is rooted in the messiness of history, real people, and relationships. Reflecting on incidents in Northern Ireland can seem bizarre and messy and looking back at figures like Pilate can cause debate. But what the story of Christ and the cross tells us is that God enters the messiness of our realties and break the evils that isolate us from each other and reconciles all things into God. Life is messy, our individual histories are messy and ambiguous, but the hope of the cross in our lives and our communities has the power to reconcile and restore us. Not through brute force, but through love and self-sacrifice.
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