Why do we wear crosses around our necks?
They are usually pretty and shiny. I wear one every Sunday to adorn my vestments during the traditional service. Fancy, right?
What would society say if a kid came to school looking like this?
School security would snatch him up and quickly escort him to the school psychologist. They’d probably check his locker for tortured animals or bombs.
Here’s the irony. The cross was originally as disturbing as this image. The cross was an instrument of torture and execution for criminals and enemies of the state in the Roman Empire. The term excruciating literally means out of (ex) the cross (cruc-).
So, when I wear my fancy cross on Sunday, why are people not horrified? We’ve tamed the cross and made it something it was never intended to be: pretty.
This post is about The Theology of the Cross, as opposed to The Theology of Glory.
Let’s first define some terms.
Our society is obsessed with success. That is not necessarily a bad thing. We should all try to be successful in life, for real. Why go into business just to fail? Students should try hard to get good grades. We should all work harder to clean up the environment and solve hunger. Without hard work, nothing gets done. This is good and true.
Here’s where things get messy. We must keep one thing straight.
Success requires me to be the primary actor, and it is conditional.
If I do not meet the requirement, then I am a failure and no good (so says the success model).
Salvation, on the other hand, is an altogether different system.
There is no I in this equation. God died for me. The result of God’s death and resurrection, through Jesus, is that we can be at peace. We have been reconciled to God and each other. This was done for us. It is a free gift from God. That’s called grace.
But wait. Don’t I have to receive this gift to make it mine? Don’t I have to do something in order to receive salvation? Well, then the gift would depend upon YOU and “if” you don’t receive it correctly…well…
Hold on. You mean that God has made an unconditional promise to redeem the world, and we don’t have to do anything for that promise to work? Yep.
That’s weird and it doesn’t make any sense. Yep.
The apostle Paul said the same thing in 1 Corinthians 1:18-25.
The human mind has an intense need to explain everything.
Here’s the deal. God is infinite and we are not, therefore the human mind cannot–nor ever will be able to–understand, let alone explain, God. Ever. Martin Luther described this reality by saying that God is hidden.
Well, if we can’t ever see or know God directly, then what hope do we have of salvation?
That’s where the cross comes into play. The foolishness of the Good News (Gospel) is that the hidden God made Godself known by becoming flesh in the person of Jesus. God suffered and died to destroy Sin and Death, and rose from the dead to give new life to all things. That is all we can ever know about God. We can’t explain it.
My colleague, Josh de Keijzer, said it really well here.
Now, more than ever, perhaps, the theology of the cross is desperately needed. So many Christians strive hard to be “good,” to “clean up” our act, and to “win souls for Jesus.” We want to be successful Christians. Yet, in our efforts, we create a class system that inevitably elevates the “good” people (insert definition of goodness here) above the “bad” people (insert definition of bad here) and creates exclusive clubs of those who are “in” vs. those who are “out.”
What, should we stop trying to be good, then? No.
We should work hard to be good citizens. That is why the Law exists. Everybody can do that: Atheists, Buddhists, Muslims, Country music fans. If you obey the Law, then you will be a good citizen and society will function better. That is a good gift from God, but it is not our salvation. It is not the Gospel.
Here’s the thing. Being a successfully good citizen does not save us. God saves us, through the cross of Jesus, and the power of the Spirit sustains us and gives us life.
The amazing power of the cross is that it brings us ALL together. We do not have to worry about making ourselves better, or saving other people’s souls. We are all equally sinners, saved by God’s grace, and we have been set free to love each other.
All we can do is say “Thank you!”
BTW, that’s what the term eucharist means: thank you. The eucharist is the fancy word for communion, the Lord’s Supper, the bread and wine that is the body and blood of Jesus. That’s why we worship. We come together, in the bond of peace, to participate in the mystery of the cross that saves us.
Thank you, Jesus, for the cross.
What do you think? Is the theology of the cross necessary for today?