The Cross is a scandal. We recoil from the horror of it, the shame and humiliation of it. We want the shout of victory, and hear instead the cry of desolation, “My God, My God! Why hast thou forsaken me?” It would be more bearable if the Cross were a result of the actions of the recognisably evil – brigands, outlaws, villains. But we see Jesus brought to his Passion by the respectable ordinary religious folk and those who led them, their cry of “Crucify him!” the result of their zeal. In the shouting crowd we can see ourselves. So we shun the weakness of the Cross, and enquire with the mocking crowd why he cannot save himself and come down from the cross.
Even in the Church we are tempted to think of the Cross as a place of defeat – we can only call it “Good Friday” because we know what is to happen on Sunday. But that is a deep and profound misunderstanding of the Cross.
The Cross is not a defeat, not even a defeat turned to victory by the Resurrection. The Cross of Jesus Christ is a victory in and of itself. At the cross all the powers of evil are dissgraced and disarmed. The love of God is tested to its ultimate by our rejection and yet it refuses to draw back, to come down from the Cross. Here at the Cross God stretches out his arms in an embrace which would envelope the whole world. Only our own perversity can keep us from him.
The Cross is not just a moment in time. We count the rings on a tree stump to find its age; we think of them as rings because that is how they look to us. But the rings are in fact columns which run up the height of the tree, looking like rings only because we have cut them in a single plane. The Cross of Jesus is a glimpse in a moment of time into something which is always true of the nature of God. He bears our suffering and shares our death. The Cross is “for us” because it reveals most completely the God who calls us.
Perhaps it is most important that we remind ourselves, today of all days, that the Cross is the signpost to the life of Christ. from the Cross, Jesus calls us to follow him, taking up a cross as we do so. I am not convinced by those rigorous theologians who iwould seperate the Cross of Christ from the cross the disciple is called to bear. At the risk of blasphemy, God forgive me, I’d want to say we experience the Cross when we respond to God’s command — it is the consequence of trying to love as he loves. As Bonhoeffer put it:
“The Cross is there, right from the beginning – a disciple has only to pick it up; there is no need for him to go out and look for a cross for himself”Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
The Cross of Jesus does not spare us from suffering and despair. What it does is ensure that our cross is neither an experience of defeat nor an empty and futile sacrifice. The same self-emptying love we see at the Cross of Jesus is the same love we are called to live.
When my love for man grows weak,
When for stronger faith I seek,
Hill of Calvary, I go,
To thy scenes of of fear and woe
Then to life I turn again,
Learning all the worth of pain,
Learning all the might that lies
In a full self sacrifice
John Reynell Wreford (1800-81)