Symbols: The Chrismon

Chrismon_by_Plotinos

We are currently in a series exploring the emblems of the early church and what they teach us about today. One of the major images of the early church and of today is the Chrismon. To most people, it’s a strange emblem. What most people do not realize is that this emblem is so Christ centered and speaks so much into how we see Christ. The emblem consists of multiple letters. We’ll cover them one at a time. As we look at each one, more and more of what Christ means to us.

The image consists of multiple letters. The first is the T, called tau in the ancient greek. Besides being the letter T, it also symbolized the cross. If you know anything about crosses, you know these were violent tools used to punish criminals and rebels during the height of the Roman Empire. One of the things we know is that this tool was used against Jesus. Now, Jesus was no criminal. As a matter of fact, most would say that he was a man of peace and love and pursued the cause of the needy. Such a man does not deserve death like he is some criminal. Neither was he really a rebel. He did, however, revolutionized how humanity would think of itself. The world did not know how to handle this revolutionary paradigm. And like the world does so many times when it does not understand change that must happen, it begins to bring death to the ones ushering in change. Which is strange, because the change that Jesus brought was to bring humanity to life and have us live out the greatness we were created to be.

This leads to the next letters in the emblem, the I and the V, which are iota and nun in the greek. These letters identify the one who hung on the cross, Jesus of Nazereth. In greek, Jesus name begins with the iota and Nazareth begins with nun. This Jesus was the center of their identity, but this was only the beginning. This name was changer of all history mentioned before. The next two letters complete what we should see in Jesus. The next two letters were P and X, the rho and chi in greek. This is important because this is where Jesus clashed with the rest of the world. Rome had a term called pax romana. This meant the peace of Rome. This is what Rome said the goal of their empire was. They way they brought it about was to conquer and bring their law into the land they conquered. You could follow it and live or you could be killed, most commonly on a cross. To the early christians, the peace of christ was realized by Jesus on the cross. The one who was the conquerer of empires, and the King of kings, won over the powers that be by being on their very tool of punishment. In a world of might makes right, Jesus changed history by choosing love as the core of his action.

If you take a look at the last two thousand years, the movement of Jesus has lasted and the Roman Empire has not. Which says much about what types of movements really last. Much of the world thinks that power and violence if necessary. Yet, Jesus took on violence. Note that he did not avoid action. His actions got him killed. But He did not impose the same tools of death the world used. He chose to show them that love brings the world into the order it needs to be in. Buying into violence by seeking violent punishments or answering violence with violence can send us into the spiral into a world of violence. Jesus drew the line in the sand, saying that there had been enough. Violence had to stop somewhere.

Many times, we see a blind devotion to ways of life by people who claim to follow Jesus. They never ask questions as to what would Jesus to challenge the status quo. Is there an alternative to what action is being suggested? These questions need to be asked by Christians every day. If Jesus was willing to be placed on a cross, then why are we never asking the questions that create alternatives. Jesus’ way means following a way that brings life and not death. The early church found it important to identify with this Jesus. Another important point is that God’s endgame is not for us to die, but to change the world. He wants us to create a reality that is full of hope. If you want to follow Jesus, the big question is if you are willing to take on the challenge of this Jesus. Are you willing to take on the challenge of love and face down the world of death?

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