The True Cross?

A few things have happened over the past few days which have made me stop and think. One, in particular, seems as though it’s worth writing about.

Whilst doing some ‘housekeeping’ on my Mac on Monday, I found an unpublished blog post - telling a story I’d completely forgotten about. And then, on Tuesday evening, at our church’s occasional ‘contemplative’ prayer meeting, something struck me (though perhaps it was just the result of indigestion from eating too many pancakes!). This post is a sort of ‘amalgam' of the two...

Sunday, 13th July, 2015 was an extraordinary day. Why? In a lot of ways it was a fairly ordinary Sunday. No, it was odd because God spoke to me - or at least, at the time I thought He might have.

The idea of hearing voices fills my mind with images of mad men clad in hair shirts, sat on top of rocks in the desert in the blazing sun, eating locusts, smoking strange herbs and babbling nonsense… I hope no-one thinks of me like that - but, you know, if they do - so what?


It happened during our 7:00pm service. I was minding my own business when a sentence ‘popped', quite unbidden, into my mind. I don’t think the context of the service was important - worship, Holy Communion, and a sermon on the second chapter of James.

I had been chatting with my fellow churchwarden about the future - she had been asking me what I was going to do once, in ten months time, I reached the end of my maximum six years of office. Maybe that had something to do with it.

Anyway, what was said (by God?)?

"Look for the True Cross.”

That's all. Nothing more, nothing less. It conjured up all sorts of strange mental images - mostly connected to fictional quests for the Holy Grail… King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table; Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade; Monty Python and the Holy Grail; lastly, and most vivid, the scene from the film 'Kingdom of Heaven', when King Baldwin and the Army of Jerusalem appear out of the heat haze, with the 'standard' of Jerusalem in the vanguard - an enormous, gilded, bejewelled, cross.


My immediate thought was 'So what does it mean? What am I to do?' Thoughts of undertaking a real life 'Quest for the True Cross' foundered very rapidly, dashed against the rocky shore of my common sense. How (and indeed why) would the 'True Cross' have survived (after all, it was just wood, and simply a Roman instrument of torture and execution - why should it have survived?); even if it had, by some miracle, survived, how could one recognise it and (perhaps more importantly) prove that it was what it purported to be? Supposing one did find a large baulk of ancient timber; one could, I suppose, establish (if one was fortunate) its age - using radio-carbon dating and/or tree ring chronology. But even if the piece of wood was the right age, how would one 'know' that it was actually the True Cross and not (for instance) simply a floor joist or roof beam?

So, in the absence of any definite guidance to the contrary, I was left with the feeling that it was a purely 'spiritual' quest, or journey. But what form was it to take, and what would I find at the end?

Now that I’ve been reminded of the event, it seems I thought about the words quite a bit - enough to have made some notes in my journal and written (but not published) a blog post. After that, clearly, I forgot about it - though the spiritual 'journey' I've been on since then has been something I couldn't gainsay - I seem to have had no choice but to set out and see where it took me.

Almost five years on…

Despite having forgotten that I was 'sent' on this quest, have I nevertheless found the True Cross on my journey?

I don’t know.

Anyway, on Tuesday evening, sat in church, I became aware that from the place where I was sitting, I could see two crosses, one hiding most of the other. The nearest one was modern, clean, geometrical in its outline, and using a large box, painted as a ‘Good News Bible’ as its support - almost as though it was growing out of the bible - and it was quite brightly lit. The one almost hidden behind was sitting in shadow, and was much older, and more rugged-looking - rough-hewn timber, grubby, stained and with three monstrous nails protruding from it.

Somehow that image seemed to represent my journey over recent years - starting out with a clean, ‘clinical’, seemingly well-thought-out, faith, as my belief was when I started out on the journey, but then looking at what lay behind that, almost forgotten and mostly ignored; digging deep into the past - reading a lot of scripture, a lot of church history, much of it ancient, and a lot of theology, both old and new, from a variety of different traditions, not to mention the writings of the church fathers and mothers. In that process, that journey of discovery, I seem to have found a much older, less ‘clearly defined’, messier, but seemingly far more ‘authentic’ faith lurking in the shadows. Is that the True Cross I'm supposed to be looking for? I have no idea.

But perhaps the search for a fresh ‘view’ of God and His love (as expressed by the image of the cross and all that it symbolises) was the point, and that the looking - the journey - is more important than the finding.

God bless you.

Copyright Phil Hendry, 2020