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“Concerning the Cross”
“Though he was in the form of God, Jesus emptied himself and became obedient to the point of death; even death on a cross.”
Every year, on Palm Sunday, those words from today’s epistle lesson are read in churches throughout the world; ushering believers of every language and nation into the gathering shadows of another Holy Week, by pointing us in the direction of the cross.
Because the cross has become, across the Christian centuries, the central symbol of the Christian faith, and, because, as we enter Holy Week, the crucifixion of Jesus is, once again, now so near, it seems right, and important, for us to ponder, together, the cross, about which our choir and organ have so beautifully sung and sounded today; all of us, thinking together, concerning the cross.
What many millions of dear and good Christians believe, concerning the cross, is that Jesus died on the cross to give to God the sacrifice God had to have so that God could forgive us of our sin.
Behind that understanding of the cross, which is so central to so much of Christianity for so many people, is the basic belief that, our life with God is primarily about a problem and how to fix it; the problem being that, because Adam and Eve sinned in the garden of Eden, all subsequent people were, and are, alienated from God, by sin; a problem which could only be fixed by the offering of a perfect sacrifice, to God, for sin. But, because all persons are born in the same sinful condition, no person could offer God a sacrifice sufficiently perfect to satisfy God’s requirement, which was why God sent Jesus, who, because he was perfect, could, himself, become the one and only sacrifice sufficient to satisfy God, which Jesus became, by dying on the cross.
But, even that sacrifice, perfect though it was, was still not enough to reconcile God to people and people to God, unless people responded to the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross by believing the right things about Jesus; making the right response to the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross the only way for people to be reconciled to God.
All of which is what countless millions of dear and good Christians believe, and say, concerning the cross. And, there is scripture which seems to say the same. But, the longer I live, the more I have come to see that, to say that God cannot be reconciled to people unless God is offered a perfect sacrifice, and, even then, the right sacrifice is effective only if it is responded to in the right way, sounds more like something people would say about God than something God would say about people.
There is, needless to say, much sin in the world, and many sins in our lives; from genocide and violence on a global scale, to the reckless acts and graceless words with which we bring hurt and harm to those we love the most. There is so much from which we all need to repent, and for which we will all have to answer and make amends.
But, even so, I believe that our relationship with God is more about a life and how to live it, and a love and how to give it, than it is about a problem and how to fix it. In fact, I believe that even if there had been no sin, God still would have come to us in Jesus, not because God had to have a perfect sacrifice of innocent life before God could be reconciled to us and we could be reconciled to God, but, because God is that determined to be with us; drawing us near and holding us close; healing our broken spirits and reconciling our broken relationships, calling us to live lives that are so filled with the Spirit of God that they become absolutely luminous with holiness; lives of courage and kindness; innocent, harmless, gentle, generous, truthful, transparent lives which instinctively sit down with and stand up for whomever is hurting most.
Which is the kind of life Jesus lived; which, according to the four gospels, is what got Jesus crucified. The life Jesus lived was such a judgment on, and indictment of, the way people with power had decided the world worked best that they crucified him.
And, on that cross, in ways we will never begin to understand, Jesus joined us in our deepest depths of pain and rejection, betrayal and humiliation, suffering and death; over which all of which he will triumph and prevail for all of us, one week from today, at the other end of Holy Week.