We spend the season of Lent preparing for and looking towards the Cross of Good Friday and the Empty Tomb of Easter Sunday. The image of the cross surrounds our life and faith, adorning our church and for many of us our homes and bodies as well, yet I wonder if sometimes it becomes so familiar to us that we forget to contemplate what all the cross means.
Crucifixion was a horrific method of public torture and execution used by the Roman Empire primarily against bandits and rebels, those who threatened the empire and were not citizens of it. In the pain of his torture and execution on the cross Jesus, who is God incarnate, experiences the very worst of what humanity can suffer and the very worst of what humanity can offer. In the crucifixion of Jesus God stands in solidarity with human pain and suffering, an eternal promise that at our very lowest we are not alone.
While divine solidarity with human suffering can be an incredibly hopeful message, the meaning of the cross goes much deeper. Jesus is known for the various statements he made while hanging on the cross, perhaps the most powerful of which is recorded in Luke’s Gospel.
Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
After facing betrayal, denial, torture, and now execution Jesus embodies divine mercy as he prays for forgiveness for those who are killing him. This act of mercy alone is a powerful one, yet it also shows the mercy extended to all of us through the cross. In his death, Jesus, the sinless God man, takes on the sin of the world, of all humanity. On the cross we see the dysfunction, the pain, the harm of the world taken on by God in Jesus, the very one who deserved none of it, who contributed to none of it.
If the story ended with Jesus’ death it would seem a story without hope and without joy. But our celebrations and remembrances don’t stop with Good Friday, but continue on to Easter Sunday, towards that morning in the garden where the tomb is empty and Christ is risen. It is because of the resurrection that we can say the cross is a sign of victory and not defeat. A sign of love more than a sign of hate. In his resurrection the cross becomes a symbol of Jesus’ conquering of sin and death, the very powers which have held humanity at bay, keeping us from the fullness of life with God intended from the beginning. Paul states this so eloquently and simply in his letter to the Romans.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. -Romans 8:38-39
What was a sign of humiliation, torture, and murder, the worst of humanity, became a sign of redemption, freedom, and love, the gift of God.
On the cross, Jesus transforms the very worst parts of human life with the very best of divine life. Offering forgiveness where none was earned. Bringing victory out of the clutches of defeat. Conquering death by death and rising to new life. Giving love where only fear and hate were shown.
Friends, this is the power of the cross, the power of God to transform and renew the world, the power of God to transform and renew us.
So I invite you, this Lent, into greater reflection on the depth of meaning found in the tree on which our Savior hung, and in that reflection may you draw closer to Jesus our Lord, our Friend, our elder Brother, and our God.