The Message of the Cross

Isn’t it interesting that of all the symbols which represent world religions we get a cross? Jews get a star, Muslims get a star plus a crescent moon, but all we get is a cross (I’m thinking Charlie Brown and getting a rock for Halloween). A cross doesn’t point to an image of the grandeur of the natural world, in fact, it’s not natural at all. A symbol of death, torture, humiliation and derision just doesn’t seem a proper representation of the glory of our God.

No wonder the apostle Paul says the message of the cross is foolishness to both those cultured Greeks and pious Jews, and our message of a crucified Christ is downright scandalous to both religious and secular powers alike (1 Cor. 1:18-31).

I’m often reminded of a quote by George Macleod on where Jesus died. “The cross must be raised again at the center of the marketplace as well as on the steeple of the church. I am claiming that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on the town garbage heap, at a crossroads so cosmopolitan that they had to write his title in Hebrew, Latin and Greek. At the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble, because that is where he died, and that is what he died about, and that is where church ought to be and what church should be about.

The cross means we have a God who gets down and dirty. A God who muddies the divine, gets beaten up and bleeds because we (as sinful as we are) matter that much. We have a God who doesn’t view us from distance but who comes, listens, hears our cries – especially in the most painful alienated times of our lives.

Think about it, an incarnate god is scandalous enough, but that this incarnate god would become vulnerable enough to die to restore all of creation is a radical notion. That the Lord of all creation would become subject to creation and that a tortured Christ would love his torturers is beyond all reason or human wisdom. Yet, it’s our story.

Since we are observing the 500th year of the Reformation I’ve been reading up on Martin Luther. He referred to the cross as “God’s backside.”  In his “Theology of the Cross” he states, “If God can use the greatest of evil for our greatest good then all evil is utterly subverted for God.” So if God can take the greatest evil and turn it into good, how much more can God take all the lesser evils that we deal with daily and that litter human history? (Rom 8:28).

Luther sees that in the failure and the death of Christ, human history has been reversed. Before Christ, creation was moving towards death but because of Calvary it is now moving toward life. It is the cross, not the empty tomb, which has changed the course of history from moving toward death to moving towards new life. Easter is just the evidence.

The cross changes our vision to see people the way God sees people. According to Paul, it is the cross that keeps us focused on our call to be agents of the message of reconciliation. Because Christ died for us we must now live for Christ (2 Cor. 5:11-20).

The cross represents the furious love of God (G.K. Chesterton), and how desperately God desires to reach us all and to calling us to reach others. Jesus uttered the words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” from the cross so you and I will never have to. Perhaps that is why Paul reminds both Corinthians and Methodists alike should consider our call in the shadow of the cross (see 1 Cor. 1 again).

Whatever your theory of atonement may be (mine has evolved over the years) what I know is that I cannot survey the cross and think mediocrity, or status quo, or same ol’, same ol’. If God is so sold out completely to reconciling the world to God, then I’d better be sold out as well.

I survey the cross and consider how foolish it is to turn the other cheek, love those who hate you and even forgive those who hurt you, or someone you love. I survey the wondrous cross and get a glimpse of how much God really does love all, even those the world considers to be nothing (Paul’s words). I survey the cross and stand convicted of the many times I have insisted on my agenda over God’s agenda of reconciliation.

As you move thought the solemnness of today’s “Good” Friday, I know we readying for Resurrection Sunday. But, don’t move too fast. Tonight and tomorrow I invite you to slow down and consider your call in the shadow of the cross. This is where it begins. This is where history changed from a world moving from death toward life – towards Resurrection.

As we pray for the way forward and upcoming tensions, the future of our denomination may be uncertain. But no matter which way we move as a church the cross still stands. Your call has not changed and the power of the cross will not be voided. After all, it’s not your call anyway – it’s God’s.

Blessings….                                                                                                                             Rob

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