Thursday, April 17, 2014

Cross Purposes

Holy Week is a time to contemplate the suffering and death of Jesus. I confess that it is a difficult time for me for a number of reasons. The first reason is that I take it very seriously. Many Christians and churches do not take it seriously these days.

Recently I read an announcement about a church in nearby community that is having a potluck supper on Good Friday that promises to be “a fun time” with “amazing food.” Call me a traditionalist if you want, but that does not capture the spirit of Good Friday for me. Good Friday used to be a day of fasting and prayer. A day that commemorates the torture and death of Jesus deserves more respect.

The second reason that Holy Week is difficult for me is the way the Cross is theologically interpreted in churches. I have studied the theology of the Cross. I have read the theories of the atonement. Most of them deal with some type of heavenly transaction involving sin and divine retribution. Some theories talk about the wrath of God being poured out on Jesus on the cross.

Many churches believe some form of “penal substitutionary atonement.” God punishes Jesus for our sins. I am traditional enough to believe that “Christ died for me.” But I don’t get into the idea of a vengeful deity taking out his anger on an innocent man. The idea of a wrathful Heavenly Father torturing and killing his own Son sounds like something out of a horror flick. It is not worthy of a God of love.

I see Jesus more like a hero laying down his life for others. When I preach the Cross I use analogies of soldiers dying in battle (in this case a spiritual battle), firefighters dying to save people in danger, or police officers dying in the line of duty. The heroic spirit seems more worthy of my Lord than some type of judicial game played by God, Satan, and Christ.

The third reason the Cross is not easy for me to contemplate is because I see myself there. It brings me face to face with my own mortality. The Cross is a powerful spiritual symbol of the end of my physical existence and the death of my separate self.

The apostle Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” That verse represents my experience and my best understanding of the Cross.

In the end, even this understanding falls short. The Cross is a mystery. The more I contemplate it, the more I am humbled by the depth and power of it. It is worth devoting a few days of Holy Week to. It is worth devoting Good Friday to. It is worth devoting my whole life to.


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