Monday, 2 March 2009

Take up your cross: a different viewpoint

cross viewpoint

This striking sculpture by the artist Kevin Storch is on the harbourside at Whitby. There it makes a powerful statement about the town and its history. This artwork

"celebrates Whitby's maritime heritage, symbolising the enduring relationship between father and son in seafaring life. It depicts Captain Scoresby and son keeping watch, possibly for whales or ice-bergs, from a crow's nest. The Scoresbys were whaling captains during the Napoleonic era but were also scientists, inventors and explorers of Arctic regions. Captain Scoresby senior’s most notable invention was the barrel Crows Nest in 1807. It gave some protection from the fierce weather to the man positioned on `look out` for whales, icebergs, or a channel through the treacherous ice. It was described as the 'greatest boon of modern times ever given to the Arctic navigator'. "

Some say that Scoresby's inspiration for the Crows Nest was the triple-decker pulpit in St Mary's church on top of the cliff by Whitby Abbey.  If so he would surely have heard the gospel set for next Sunday (8th March, Lent 2B) preached from it.

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Mark 8:34)

This is not a call to deliberate self-sacrifice, suffering and victimage. It is a call to remain faithful to Jesus come what may, for the sake of his inbreaking kingdom. It is to see the cross as the supreme challenge to and subversion of mechanisms of domination and exploitation, suffering and harm, all of which deny the kingdom of God which Jesus sought to establish. The cross shows the lengths to which love will go for the sake of the beloved.  The worst that Imperial Rome could do to punish Jesus and put a stop to his sedition becomes the symbol through which the vulnerable love of God is disclosed. It is a viewpoint totally at odds with that of the occupying oppressor. Its own most terrible weapon of terror becomes the regime's undoing. A stark symbol of brutality becomes one of  revolutionary love and peace to which violence has no answer.

To see from the viewpoint of the cross is to look out on a world which God cherishes and yearns to transform.  In dark times it is always to be looking towards the dawn and to be on the lookout for signs of the Kingdom. It is to shout out when injustice and wickedness threaten to destroy. It is to see the Way, ahead. With this thought in mind I look at the Scoresby sculpture in a new and challenging light. The Crows nest is now atop the cross at the very point at which the Romans cynically placed the sign which said "King of the Jews". Now the sculpture challenges us to be alert and watchful disciples, active and moving forward as we are empowered by the Spirit. The image conveys something of the dynamism which is entailed in Jesus call to follow.  The image is about being outward looking, engaged and far-sighted.

Taking up our cross is to see the world differently with Jesus and, with unshakeable perseverance, to keep on telling what we see, come what may.


  1. I think this Captain Scoresby must be related to Dr William Scoresby Jr who was the ship's doctor on the whaling ship Diana - on which my great (5) grandfather John Gravill was Captain. It got ice bound for months and many of the crew died. Lots of sacrifice and risk.

  2. that should have been great (x5)!