Imagine for a few moments that you have some new neighbors. They seem like very nice people and you begin to socialize with them. After a while they invite you to come and worship with them. For some months you refuse, but they are very persistent. Finally, you give in and say that you’ll go with them just once, because you are happy with where you presently are going to worship.
Well, imagine your surprise when you walk into their church and there is no altar in the sanctuary. In fact, what you see shocks you! The whole sanctuary is bare, except for an electric chair, placed in the dead center.
You figure this must be some kind of a cult and you want to leave immediately. But as you look around at the people gathered in front of the electric chair, they seem so normal. Their prayers, their hymns and their music is very devout.
They are praying to a man who was strapped to an electric chair and put to death by the machinations of the political and religious leaders of his day. It’s beyond all explanation!
Or is it? This is how the people in the first centuries after Jesus was crucified felt. This is how visitors felt walking into a Christian place of worship. What was a Cross doing there? A Cross was a symbol of hatred, shame and disgrace – something to be despised, like an electric chair is today.
Today we take the Cross for granted…..and that is a shame. We encrust the Cross with diamonds and we make it into a piece of jewelry. We watch baseball players make the Sign of the Cross before stepping up to bat. The sign value of the Cross has become so diminished in modern times.
Jesus’ suffering and death on the Cross, the electric chair of his time, was a sacrifice of total self-giving, one of total love. Jesus’ message and the message of his Cross is so totally different than the message that is rampant in our world today.
Our world today puts forth a message of success –
Blessed are the rich and the financially secure.
Blessed are the proud and the powerful.
Blessed are the clever and those who don’t get caught.
Blessed are the celebrities and those with the most Facebook and Twitter followers.
But the Cross, the real Cross that Jesus Christ died on, gives the opposite message –
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the sorrowful, for they shall see the swollen bodies of children dying of hunger and the many thousands who are sick and dying of the coronavirus.
Blessed are those who do not return injury for injury, but forgive from their hearts.
Blessed are the chaste, the faithful, the honest, and those who keep their word.
This is what the Cross means. It is not a pendant, a decoration. The Cross is the sign of a radical way of living.
The Cross is a challenge. When we make the Sign of the Cross, we are stating that we are willing to die to ourselves and to the things of this world.
Jesus died on a Cross. You and I are asked to embrace his Cross. How can you die to yourself this Holy Week?