The cross is everywhere in our culture. The legacy of many centuries of Christendom, where it was a marker of faith, then became a marker of culture, ethnicity, power. A symbol of rejection and punishment becomes the marker of acceptability. That which Paul once called “A scandal to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks,” is a topic awash in Christianese, the insider language that has spiritual sounding phrases that often are unintelligible to those outside of Christianity and often bereft of real meaning for those inside.
The cross has become fashion, first for buildings then for people. We are scandalized when people find it a scandal. We declare fools those who find it foolish. It has become a prop for us in religious and culture wars.
Still a source of meaning for those who seek salvation, it has been co-opted by others for their own purposes that differ than those of Christ.
Our familiarity with it as a topic in Christian theology is good, it is one of the central themes that mark an Evangelical faith. Yet, our familiarity with it also is bad, as we play into the cultural assumptions that linger from Christian domination. Talk about the cross, scandalously, has become glib. Which is likely a big reason why we in the West are in a post-Christian context.
The glib ubiquity has inoculated many of those who grew up near the church or in it. They think they know the Gospel, and the gospel they encountered had no power.
Peter was afraid during the trial and crucifixion, so he denied Jesus. He experienced the confrontations of power and didn’t trust Jesus would be the victor.
In our era, people deny Jesus because they don’t see the reason for the bother. The cosmic confrontation has been reduced to a personal preference: Which ice cream flavor is your favorite? What is your favorite sports team? What religion do you follow?
The cross has been co-opted and we in the church have let it, even encouraged it, wanting to use Jesus for our own ends, to support our own priority and power and influence. We’ve become the sorts of people who put Jesus on the cross, wanting to be wise to the culture and gain approval from the religious.
This week, let us consider the cross in a fresh way. Think about what it meant as an act, as an experience. Think about what it means in your life, how we encounter hardship, or struggle, or temptation. Think of the cross in social terms: who did Jesus include? Think in terms of strategy: how did God go about saving the world?
The cross is a confrontation, a strike against our patterns of social and intellectual assumptions. The cross is a salvation, a salvation for our inner state of existential sinfulness, and a salvation from our external state of social divisions and manipulations.
Atonement is the doctrine of this salvation, being restored to at-one-ment with God and with others, love begetting love. The cross is the act-speech of atonement that declares God’s radical love for the cosmos, sending the Son to die, gathering all those who have been condemned to death, and inviting them to be reborn.
We become new, losing the strongholds and hangups of spiritual, social, and psychological dysfunction as we find our identity in the scandalous and foolish wisdom of God.
This wisdom transcends human wisdom and attempts to find meaning in our ego’s limited perspective. Because of this the cross is an invitation to let go. It is a confrontation, drawing a line between the way of God and the ways of the systems of this world. The latter promise meaning and value and life, but it is only the way of God that can fulfill such promises.
What promises are we indulging that run counter to the cross?
What promises are we pushing against because we are afraid of the cross or dismissive of it?
Who are we crucifying in the name of an insufficient theology of the cross?
How have we co-opted the cross for our purposes?
What is the meaning of the cross in our present society and how can we reinstill a sense of its scandal and foolishness so that it has the confronting power once more?
That is the topic of this week. If it’s not challenging or difficult, even to those of us who are familiar with it, then we’re not getting into the depths of what it means and what it calls for. Ecce homo. Ecce deus.
Read: Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 22; Isaiah 53; Matthew 26-27; 1 Corinthians 1:10-31
In my seminary courses, I provide a weekly reflection on each topic of study, a way to get students thinking not only about the content but also the implications of it in their life and how it relates to their context. This week in my theology course, we’re talking about the crucifixion.