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Reflection March 20, 2016
Reflections on the Cross of Christ
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
As we prepare for another Holy Week, I’d like to present for us some pertinent and important reflections from Ronald Rolheiser’s latest book, The Passion and the Cross:
(In Mark’s Gospel) Jesus didn’t die serenely, but struggling with doubt. Shouldn’t his most committed followers expect a similar struggle? (see Mark 15:34)
In describing Jesus’ death, perhaps more than anything else the Gospels want us to focus on his aloneness, his abandonment, his being a stone’s throw away from everyone. (See Luke 22:41)
John’s Passion narrative emphasizes that Jesus was sentenced to death precisely at noon, the very hour on the eve of the Passover when the Temple priests would begin to slaughter the paschal lambs. (see John 19:13-16)
Rene Girard, the famed anthropologist, once commented that the cross of Jesus is “the single most revolutionary moral event in all of history.”
Christianity is more than two thousand years old, but it took us nearly nineteen hundred years to fully grasp the fact that slavery is wrong, that it goes against the heart of Jesus’ teaching. The same can be said about the equality of women.
Capital punishment shouldn’t be imposed because it goes against the heart of the Gospel as revealed in the cross; namely, that we should forgive murderers, not kill them. (“Father, forgive them … see Luke 23:34)
For Jesus, the secret is the cross - that’s the deep wisdom we need to grasp. If we understand the cross, all the rest of what Jesus teaches will make sense. Conversely, if we don’t understand the cross, all the rest of what Jesus teaches won’t make sense. Grasping the meaning of the cross is the secret to everything.
The cross … is the ultimate revelation of God ... In Jesus’ death we see right into the heart of God. There is no longer a veil between us and God’s heart. (see Matthew 27: 51; Mark 15: 38; Luke 23:45)
What the cross tells us, more clearly than any other revelation, is that God is absolutely and utterly nonviolent and that God’s vulnerability, which the cross invites us into, is a power for community with God and with each other.
We are forever connecting God to coercion, threat, guilt, reckoning, and to the idea that a power should somehow rise up and crush by force all that’s evil. That concept is the main reason why so many of us either fear God, hate God, try to avoid God, or are disappointed in God. (“Why doesn’t God do something about the world?”)
What Scripture reveals about God, and this is seen full-bloom on the cross, is that God is not coercion, threat, guilt, nor the great avenger of evil and sin. Rather, God is love, light, truth, and beauty; a gentle if persistent invitation, one that’s never a threat. God is like a mother, gently trying to coax another step out of a young child learning to walk.
God exists as an infinite patience that endures all things; not as a great avenger, the hero in the movies, who kills all the bad guys when he has finally had enough. The cross of Christ reveals that God works far differently than do our movies and our imaginations. God never overpowers anyone.
One of the key revelations inside the cross (is that) we have a redeeming, not a rescuing, God.
Jesus never promised us rescue, exemptions, immunity from cancer, or escape from death. Rather, he promised that, in the end, there will be redemption, vindication, immunity from suffering, and eternal life. But that’s in the end; in the meantime … there will be the same kinds of humiliation, pain, and death that everyone else suffers.
In the Gospels, Jesus never speaks of his death as a ransom payment for sins, but rather always as a gift of love … (And) Love is always partially a mystery. Any truth that we can fully grasp and understand is, in the end, not very deep. The deepest truths are always somewhat beyond us.
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor