Each and every year we are brought back to this most uncomfortable of places – to the foot of the cross and the story of our Lord’s great love for us expressed in such terrible suffering and death. The cross was such a brutal, wickedly common, and shameful way to die. And yet the cross has become the symbol of hope over fear, of life over death and of the ultimate victory of love over hate and judgment. We who profess a faith believe that the cross is the most perfect revelation of God and that revelation is LOVE. It is an outrageous thing to say and so very hard to hold onto at the foot of the cross, reminded of the horror and pain and abandonment that the story of the cross also includes.
To claim that the cross is the most perfect revelation of God’s love is not to engage in romantic idealism but rather to wrestle with the central mystery of Easter. So maybe we should pose it as a question – how can we believe that the cross is the most perfect revelation of God and how is that revelation one of love?
God has been revealing the divine self since the beginning of creation. Indeed creation is one of the most powerfully wonderful and profound revelations of God. It seems that the nature of God has always been to give expression in created matter – in galaxies, in this blue planet, in plankton and huge whales, in spiders and tall trees, in birds and humanity. And God has been revealing the divine self to and through the men and women of faith throughout history – Abraham and Sarah, Moses, David, Rahab, Ruth, and Joseph and Mary.
Self giving love being the nature of the divine, and our nature being flawed, confused, distracted and faint hearted, this ongoing revelation did not seem to have been enough. So God expressed the divine self in the particular person of Jesus of Nazareth – the most compelling and complete revelation of God’s love to us, for us, and as one of us.
Having revealed God’s self in human flesh there was always going to be death as well – it is the cost of incarnation. But death on a cross? Could not Jesus have simply lived like the prophets to a wise old age and died gently full of days? Would not that have been sufficient?
The power and the beauty of the cross is disturbing and confounding. Many of us were taught that he died for us, for our sins. At one level that is surely true. But Jesus clearly saw his impending death not as payment for sin but as sustenance for the spiritual journey from slavery to liberation, from life through death to life eternal. Jesus was put to death because of religious and political fear, hatred and judgement – because he offended the religious and caused the political authorities to fear insurrection and unrest. And he allowed that this happened at the Festival of Passover, at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, that celebrated the central story of the Jewish faith – the journey from slavery and oppression to liberation and the promised land.
Jesus did not so much offer a new truth as he offered us the naked truth of God’s love with us in human form. Jesus was naked in his human vulnerability – he did not call upon the legion of angels some think he might have – but died when his human flesh could bear no more torture and with his spirit broken open by pain and desolation. Jesus was naked in his divinity – he was love without reservation or limit – not even pain and anguish could quash the love of God that poured through him. Thus he declared in his living, in his dying, in his loving, that the old story of liberation and redemption of the chosen few was to made real in every human life, in every situation, in every heart that made room. The love of God burst all the banks that had been built around it. In the life and the death of Jesus God’s love poured out of the human container of one person and escaped all the human constraints of the law and entered into the very fabric of human experience. Since the all consuming love of Jesus on the cross we have not been able to put the stopper back in the bottle, we cannot un-tell this story of love, we cannot take back the news that death is not the end, we cannot hide from the love of God in everyday human suffering and joy. The passion of Jesus was then, is for us now, and shall not lessen until all of humanity, all of creation, all of time is embraced by love and brought to completion by love.
It is the manner of his death that makes the cross beautiful and powerful. Confronted by fear and hate and abandonment Jesus loved until the end. God took into human flesh the terror of humanities cruelty and judgment and overcame hate with forgiveness and love, overcame the darkness of death with light, and overcame fear with hope. There is now no place, no situation that the love of God has not touched, even the tomb has been illumined with love and eternal life.
This is why we can look upon the cross and see not only splintery wood, bloody suffering and death but we can look upon the cross and see helpless un-killable love, unfathomable forgiveness, and life without end. For us the cross of shame and suffering is also the cross of beauty and hope. It is the cross on which our Lord and Savior died and it is the cross which is a sign for us of our death and resurrection – not only in the future but in the life long journey of transformation, in our journey from brokenness to reconciliation, from slavery to all that binds us and limits us toward the fullness of life without end. And so we come year after year to the foot of the cross with all our hopes and fears and place them in the pierced hands of our Lord entrusting ourselves to the broken open heart of God.
You may wish to consider what I wrote last year for Good Friday: