The message of the cross to a society

Taken from the sermon preached by George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, at Canterbury Cathedral on Easter Day
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The Independent Online

Images and icons are powerful weapons. They communicate ideas and convey subliminal messages. I think of that arresting sign "M" of McDonald's displayed on the Champs-Elysees and taking the challenge of fast food right into the heartland of sublime traditional French cuisine.

I think, too, of the "Coca-Cola" sign I saw years ago in the middle of an Iraqi desert with the scribbled words below, "Kilroy was here".

Today business leaders pay as much attention to the message communicated by their brand images as they do to the rise and fall of the share prices they pore over anxiously each morning. They know how important the logo is because, before a word is said, the image has already uttered its message.

So, to say that our current symbols and images are associated with power, success, fame and money is to state the obvious.

How strikingly different, then, is the image associated with this season of Easter - the cross: a symbol of weakness, humility, abandonment and suffering. The cross, the icon of Christianity, is a powerful and potent image. It has inspired and mystified artists as well as ordinary believers down the centuries.

The Easter image of the cross is a universal sign, still potent and relevant in its appeal. But what is it a sign of to our generation?

First, it is one of protest for humankind. I mentioned the striking figure of the abandoned, naked Christ on the cold stone a moment ago. I saw it the very day pictures were being shown on our television sets of emaciated children dying in Ethiopia. One, a picture of a young boy being supported by his mother, bore an astonishing similarity with the emaciated Christ. It reminded me that the cross calls on us to protest for humankind.

The mission of the Church everywhere is to stand alongside the very poor, the weak, the starving. To leave them is to betray them. Even more terrible, to ignore them is to abandon a key tenet of our Christian faith. Central to our raison d'etre is to be a voice for those without voices and to help those whom others have given up.

I am concerned at present that "Africa fatigue" is beginning to affect us all. If it is not Mozambique and the floods, then it is Sudan and the forgotten war. If it is not Rwanda and the genocide, then it is Sierra Leone and the forced amputations of limbs from men, women and children. If it is not Uganda and Aids, then it is the famine in Ethiopia.

All too easily, in the face of such overwhelming suffering, we can shrug our shoulders and turn away from the pain. But the cross compels us never to give up striving, working, hoping and praying - because it is God's people we are standing for and it is his love that we are reflecting.

The cross, this great symbol of weakness, like a huge field of energy is able to give life, inspiration and renewed hope. It gives us a reason to go on believing, celebrating and rejoicing because Christ is risen.

And what a glorious message this is for our "" society. It reminds us of the most basic and important values of life. We are so often seduced into believing that all that matters are things like power, success, fame and money. No. These are transitory, paltry things when compared to the ultimate things of the spirit. They are not to be despised but they should always take second place.

And our country and her children must be rooted in these truths of the Easter faith - in the love of God and his personal and passionate commitment for each one of us. If not we shall mistake the temporal for the real world, and suffer terribly as a result.

So today, and every day, may this Easter faith in the death and resurrection of Christ renew your faith and trust as you face the future. And may each one of us wear the cross proudly: the icon of God's love. A protest for humankind and his sign of victory and hope for our lives.