A stumbling block. An Offense. A curse. These are all words used to describe the cross of Jesus that we find ourselves contemplating. The Roman Cross, one of the most inhumane instruments of death ever conceived. Jesus, a teacher of wisdom and love who traveled through communities blessing and loving, healing and holding, cherishing and correcting for the sake of ushering in God’s eternal realm of peace on earth.
So, how did this Jesus and this cross come together? Just as darkness and light cannot occupy the same space–if the world were just–it would seem that Jesus and the cross would have never made contact. And yet they did. After being scourged until he was virtually unrecognizable, this Holy Man was further humiliated by being nailed to a cross—what should have been a clear sign that his ministry had failed. But here we are still after 2000 years talking about him and this offensive, cursed, stumbling block of a cross.
Well, perhaps it is because it is in our makeup to try to make sense out of the senseless. We just can’t help ourselves. Regardless of the foundation upon which our logic is built, there is something about humans that will not let us rest in the face of something that just doesn’t make sense to us. And the cross of Jesus doesn’t make sense—especially when we are wrestling with the idea that the seed of human salvation and redemption is located somewhere on that old rugged cross. As Professor Mark Heim of Andover Newton Theological School put it, the Christian position is that humanity was redeemed by “WHAT SHOULDN’T HAVE EVER HAPPENED”.
In other words, if the world was living up to its potential, Jesus never should have even gone to the Cross. But he did. And on that cross several other things that should have never happened did happen. And perhaps it is for this reason that the cross still holds most of the world captive—whether people consider themselves Christians or not.
One of the things that shouldn’t have happened on that cross was that with little to no qualifications, Jesus assured a bandit, who by his own admission belonged on the cross, that he would be in paradise with him. How often does something like that happen in this world. As far as we know, that bandit never did anything to “earn paradise”, yet it was given to him freely. All he asked was that he be remembered when the One who asked us to remember him, entered into his kingdom. That’s it. He asked, “Remember me,” and immediately, whatever he may have felt he did to belong on that cross was erased and was replaced with the destiny to which the Christ himself was headed. Now many people would say that this shouldn’t have happened. Why would someone who got the punishment their society says they deserve receive the reward that Jesus deserved? It just doesn’t make sense.
Another thing that happened on that senseless cross that has hooked itself into our spiritual imaginations is Jesus’ prayer for those who called for his death, his executioners, the religious leaders, the disciples who deserted him, and by proxy any person who knows the will of God in their heart but does otherwise. “Forgive them for they know not what they do?”
Have you ever had to utter those words while you were in the depths of unimaginable pain and sorrow? Have you ever uttered those words even days, months, years, or even decades after a deep offense? As I have witnessed it, those words do not roll off the tongue lightly. And these are not words that simply come out of our mouths. These words have to come out of our hearts. To forgive someone because they know not what they do even while they are actively doing the very thing you are forgiving them for makes no sense. And yet, we are told that that ability also resides on that old rugged cross.
But here’s the thing. Although all of these spiritual potentialities emerged on the cross, they were never meant to stay there. They did not die with Jesus. Rather it is the conviction of Jesus’ followers that those and many other potentialities rose with Jesus and are to be realized in all of us who look to him for guidance.
As Paul wrote to the Roman church:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of our Creator, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
What does that mean?
As I understand it, it means that whenever One of Us chooses the way of the Cross, the senseless becomes sensible, the curse becomes a blessing, what once offended can be defended, and the stumbling block becomes the cornerstone of faith. This is done when, in remembrance of Christ we choose not to do “WHAT SHOULDN’T EVER HAPPEN”, but rather do what Jesus would have done. By doing this, we, moment by moment transform the world into a world where Jesus would have never been killed—a world of peace that surpasses all understanding. This is the world that we pray for and the world that we have been trusted to usher in.
Thank you for this senseless cross that will hold our imaginations hostage until the day the world makes sense for everyone. Until that day, may we not be offended or stumble for the sake of Love’s gospel. Amen.