We have travelled with Jesus to Jerusalem during the days of Lent. We know the story. Good Friday takes us to the cross. A few women from our group bear witness to his death. The first message of Easter Sunday is that the tomb is empty.
We know the story. However, we sometimes have questions about the cross. What should the cross mean for us today? What is its message? Why was it necessary for Jesus to die?
We ask these questions in a context. I can think of at least four contextual influences that shape the way that the cross is understood in our times.
- The trivialization of the cross. It is worn by some people as an ornament or a good luck charm. Perhaps there is something vague about the symbol that seems religious in a comforting way. But the meaning does not go very deep or very far.
- The association with colonialism, exclusion, and violence. The cross was carried by crusaders into battles against Moslems. The Spanish colonizers came to America with the cross and the sword. The Klux Clan burned crosses on the lawns of African Americans in the US. In Canada the cross was prominent in residential schools.
- The theology of a new generation of rigid fundamentalists. They emphasize the theologies of penal substitutionary sacrifice. The portrayal can sometimes degenerate into the figure of a divine judge that demands punishment for sin. Jesus steps forward and dies in our place. God’s anger is satisfied.
- The persecution and martyrdom of Christians meeting in churches marked by the cross. Last weekend the Islamic State bombed two Coptic churches in Egypt. 45 people died. They will not celebrate Easter with their families this year.
The cross of Jesus is central to our faith. Paul the apostle wrote: “we preach Christ crucified.” He went on to say this message could seem like foolishness and become an obstacles to faith. In the first century people asked how God could be connected with the death of an alleged agitator against Rome? Centuries later we find that the cross is still central to our faith and that its meaning is conflicted.
I invite you to read the gospel text as we consider the crucifixion of Jesus. Continue reading