A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him - the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD -
and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.
The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious.
This cross was gifted to Church of the Incarnation at the Neenah, WI Boys’ and Girls’ Brigade on Epiphany Sunday, 1/9/22. May she always walk in the glory and beauty of the cross of Christ. In her suffering, may she always remember the promise of resurrection. And as she daily bears her own cross, may her burden be easy and her yoke be light.
As Christian art and iconography lead the observer beyond itself into an experience with the very reality of the things they signify and depict, this cross seeks to do the same. For this reason, it is appropriate to articulate the imagery and theological openings that this cross depicts.
The beam that this cross was fashioned from is a hand-hewn beam from a barn that collapsed in a storm on a farm in northern Wisconsin. These hand-hewn beams are particularly impressive as they were formed without powered tools and sawmills but were literally hewn with hand tools. This can be seen in the various dark notches found throughout the beam. The very markings on the wood are marks of human striving and labor. One can imagine the effort, exertion of will, and precision required to form a perfectly straight, square beam with hand tools.
This piece of lumber is appropriately called ‘reclaimed.’ It no longer serves the purpose that it was made for; it was salvaged from destruction or disposal, and it now has been reformed and refashioned for a new purpose. In this case, what once held up the roof or a wall of a barn to house livestock now stands tall to proclaim the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. The testimony of this beam is one that Christians should hear with familiarity. Indeed, in our tired state of death, we have been salvaged from destruction and repurposed. Christian theology has many words to describe our salvation: Redeemed, Justified, Adopted, Sanctified, Forgiven, Healed, Liberated, United etc. Perhaps we might add ‘Reclaimed’ to our salvation vocabularies.
Working many hours with this beam, it struck me how the markings of labor - the hewn marks, the drill holes, and the mortises - are also wrapped up in this picture of redemption. Indeed, our own work and striving have been repurposed for the proclamation of the mystery of our faith. Our own labor takes on new dignity in the light of the gospel.
Emerging forth from this old, rugged beam are three boards: two curly maple and one purple heart. The Christian liturgical tradition has attributed the colors purple and white to represent certain aspects of the life of Christ and the life of the church.
Purple is the liturgical color for the seasons of Advent and Lent. These seasons are centered on the incarnation of Jesus Christ. In Advent we feel the longing for the coming of Christ, both with Israel before his first coming and with the church today as we wait for his second coming. The climax of this season is the celebration of the incarnation of the Son of God, the Word made flesh, the image of the invisible God. And in Lent, we walk with Jesus through his suffering and trials. If Advent celebrates the moment of incarnation, Lent causes us to endure the cost of God’s incarnation, the day-to-day suffering that he experienced as a human like us. As purple represents royalty and suffering, glory and penitence, satisfaction and longing, we are caught in the middle of the tension that is the incarnation.
White is the liturgical color for a variety of feast days that often center around the glory and self-revelation of God, namely Christmas, Epiphany, Transfiguration Sunday, Easter Sunday, and Trinity Sunday. Contrasted with the long seasons of Advent and Lent, these are often single feast days full of joy and celebration. On these days, we are captured anew by specific ways in which God has revealed himself to us through his son Jesus.
This cross shows the colors of white and purple emerging out of the wood of the beam, almost as Isaiah the prophet depicts the shoot bursting forth from the stump of Jesse. God’s salvation is not from afar; he does not stay at an arm’s length or work from a distance. His salvation begins when he unites himself to humanity so intimately that he truly is both God and man, without confusion, change, division, or separation. The colors that capture the glory of the incarnation of the Son are seen bursting forth from within the beam, leading its reclamation into a new life.
Bread and Wine
Finally, after noting the glory of the incarnation and the beauty of being reclaimed in Christ, the observer will notice that the maple and purple heart stripes resemble the colors of bread and wine. While this is not a crucifix, the imagination may see this purple and white as the body and blood of Christ hanging on the cross, with arms stretched in sorrow and victory. The mystery of our salvation is found in the body and blood of Christ, with whom we are united by faith. Each time we gather, we commune with Jesus together in Word and Sacrament.
It is my prayer that the Holy Spirit might minister to many through this cross; that he might often remind his people that he has reclaimed them for a new life, proclaim to them the mystery of the incarnation, and draw them into further communion with himself.