Concerning the Cross-Formed Life

Philippians 2:5-11

Palm/Passion Sunday

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With the waving of the palms at the opening of this hour, our children have led us across the threshold of another Holy Week; the church’s annual journey to the cross.

Needless to say, no one can speak with certainty concerning the mystery which surrounds the cross.  Orthodox Christian doctrine says that Jesus had to die on the cross so that God’s requirement for a perfect sacrifice could be satisfied; the idea being that God could not forgive sin without compromising God’s holiness unless a perfect sacrifice was first given to God; a sacrifice Jesus became when he died on the cross, thus paying the price for our sin and freeing God to forgive people, if they respond in the right way to the perfect sacrifice.

That is Christianity’s most prevalent teaching concerning the cross.  And, it may be true.  But, while I cannot speak for you, on my ears, and in my heart, it sounds more like something people would say about God than something God would say about people.

Add to that the fact that the New Testament writers who assigned that sacrificial meaning to Jesus’ death on the cross were people whose lives had been shaped by a Judaism which taught that sacrifices were necessary to receive God’s forgiveness, and it’s hard to know what the ultimate truth might be concerning what was happening when Jesus was dying on the cross.  Was Jesus dying on the cross to satisfy a need in God for a sacrifice to be  made and a price to be paid?  Or, was Jesus dying on the cross, not to rescue us from God’s wrath, but, to join us in our pain?  Or, was Jesus dying on the cross because he sat down with and stood up for the wrong people often enough that he made the right people nervous enough that they crucified him in order to silence him?  Or, was it all of the above?  Or something else?

When it comes to the cross as the place for Jesus to die, there is much unknowable mystery.  But, not when it comes to the cross as a way for us to live.  As a place for Jesus to die, the cross may be wrapped in layer upon layer of mystery, but, as a way for us to live, the cross-formed life is actually, surprisingly, clear.

To live a cross-formed life is to live a life which is formed by, and shaped like, the cross; a life which, like the cross, is simultaneously vertical and horizontal; vertically, stretched up to God; horizontally, stretched out to others.  Loving God with all that is in us is the vertical life of worship and devotion, song and prayer, and loving others as we love ourselves is the horizontal life of kindness and compassion, forgiveness and grace, confrontation and truth, gentleness and hospitality; sitting down with,  and standing up for, the same people Jesus would sit down with, and stand up for, if Jesus lived in Jackson.

That is the cross-formed life; a life which is simultaneously vertical with love for God and horizontal with love for others.

That, my sisters and brothers, is the last conversion; the final frontier on the path to depth; a cross-formed life, a life lived up to God and out to others, which is not another religious something to add to our already over-burdened lives, but, rather, a life that flows from us as naturally as breathing, the kind of life we can’t not live, once we want it enough to embrace it, by praying for it, day after day, all through the day.

Amen.