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Friday, March 29, 2013

Reclaiming the Cross of Love

Later in our Good Friday service we will be taking some time together to meditate on the cross. Over the years the cross has become the symbol of our faith. But as we have been learning recently it was not such an important symbol in the art of the first centuries of Christianity. To many of us this comes as something of a relief, because it isn’t something we feel totally comfortable with. When we see big public crosses be the side of the highway, we associate them with those other Christians, the ones who give us a bad name!

But today we are brought face to face with the stark reality of the cross and the fact that we can’t get away from Jesus’ painful and shameful death for us. Jesus died for us. If it were not for humanity’s inability to find its way back to God then Jesus would not have lived a life and preached a message so at odds with the ruling forces of the world that they had to kill him, publicly and shamefully in order to make a spectacle – in order to discourage others from following his path.

Jesus did not need to die. He didn’t need to die to appease an angry God. He could have chosen not to. In Martin Scorcese’s film The Last Temptation of Christ, based on the book of the same name, Jesus apparently gives in to the temptation to come down from the cross and to get married and live a “normal” life. That’s not what Jesus chose to do, but as the Son of God he could have summoned angels to help him, he could simply have walked away and disappeared. Yet Jesus goes on and follows his life’s work to its inevitable conclusion; he is killed.

How is it a death for us – how is it that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, for our salvation? This is probably one of the questions which will keep us wondering all our lives. I don’t have a fully articulated answer, but it is clear that Jesus came to deal with the sin matrix which grows through human society, rather like a weed that grows underground and pops up again and again and becomes impossible to eradicate. It is clear that each one of us is trapped in that matrix so we are inevitably oppressing others almost before we get out of bed in the morning, and we are inevitably harming our planet just be coming to church. And it is clear that each one of us is violent in our thoughts if not in our actions.

Jesus came to help us see an alternative way. If Jesus had taught and healed but then chickened out at the last moment, he would have been giving in to the sin matrix which rules by fear and by violence. He didn’t do that and so he lived out his true calling – as the Scriptures say – he was obedient even unto death. And so God raised him from the dead. His mission was completed and having lived a life of non-violence he died without repaying violence with violence. Why? Because of love.

The cross has become the greatest symbol of love: God’s love for us. Yet we have turned it into a symbol of guilt. We say that it was our sin that nailed Jesus to the cross. We teach our children that it is our bad thoughts that nailed him to the cross. We are bad, bad, bad. And because we are bad, Jesus died. We killed him.

That is just bad theology used to keep people in fear, when the cross is actually a symbol of the opposite – a symbol of God’s incredible love that s/he allowed Godself to experience mortality, to experience the limitations and difficulties of being human. In Jesus’ resurrection, God showed that the way of non-violence is powerful and that our strength is not in guns and weapons or in clever use of angry language and hate speech; rather it is in trust in God’s love for us.

So when we look at the cross; when we see the pain and suffering, the broken bones and the blood, let us allow ourselves to feel the agony and in doing so have empathy with all those who experience agony today, but beyond that, let us be grateful – grateful for the incredible love that made Jesus go through with his mission. And let us reclaim the cross – not as a symbol of guilt but as a symbol of love.


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