Monday, April 3, 2017
The Meaning of the Cross
We have just experienced several weeks of federal officials at the national level passing the blame for the twists and turns of government. Passing the blame is a common human ancient trait, going back to Adam and Eve. For better than two thousand years, people have dealt with the death of Jesus on the cross by passing the blame. Pontius Pilate is responsible. No, the Scribes and the Pharisees are responsible. No, no. The whole Jewish people throughout history are responsible. And then the question turns on us: Are we responsible? Not me, you might say. I wasn’t there. But the focus on blame doesn’t get to the meaning of the cross. Blame is easy. Solidarity with Jesus on the cross is hard.
God in Jesus, the Word Incarnate, died on the cross, held close by His Father, just as every person is held close by God at the moment of death. God in Jesus came to save us from the destructive power of sin. In the Gospel Jesus does not ask us to imitate Him. Rather we are called to be in solidarity with Him in his life, death and resurrection. Put another way, to be a Christian is to share in the dying and rising of Christ. These are powerful thoughts – almost beyond our ability to grasp, but try we must.
Here’s an important point about the dying of Jesus that is found in the Gospel of John 19.30. It is the cry of Jesus just before he dies: “It is finished.” Far from being a whimper of defeat, tetelestai, the Greek word for what Jesus calls out, is the shout of victory of an athlete as he crosses the finish line. Jesus was not defeated by the cross. It was the instrument of victory over sin and ultimate death.
The earliest tradition of symbolizing Jesus on the cross has this sense of triumph. Christ was the victor. Christ passed from life to glory through his death on the cross. Then there was a turn, and for many centuries until recent times, the Jesus who was imaged on the cross called us to concentrate on his pain, his wounds, his blood. We contemplated Christ’s sufferings, and that was a good thing, but it didn’t help believers reach the realization that Jesus’ death was not the end. The cross was His way to glory and to restore our relationship with God. Many modern crucifixes have renewed the older imagery of Christ, on the cross, who stretches out his arms to draw us to himself.
Good Friday is less than two weeks away, the middle day of the Triduum between the Supper of the Lord and the Easter Vigil. The power and meaning of the cross can get lost in Holy Week when so much of our truth as believers comes to absorb us in such a short time. That’s why it’s good to start now to dive into the meaning of Christ’s gift of Himself and His new Risen Life among us.
Do you have a crucifix at home? Move it into a more prominent place where you can see it and call for its deepest meaning to flood through you. Mark your calendar for the Liturgy of Good Friday. While it is a laudable practice to participate in the Stations of the Cross, the stations are not the Liturgy of Good Friday. Find out its time and be there. Bring no agenda except to be in solidarity with Jesus in his time of victory over death and sin.
Behold! Behold! The wood of the cross on which has hung our salvation. O come let us adore!
~ Sister Joan Sobala