We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For GodÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and GodÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s weakness is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:23-25)
In the United States we are a culture of success and power. We may notice that churches here often focus on the triumph of resurrection, and the cross is often left in the shadows. The Anglican scholar, Bishop Stephen Neill in his meditation on the events of Holy Week said, Ã¢â‚¬Å“in the Christian theology of history, the death of Christ is the central point of history; here all the roads of the past converge; hence all the roads of the future diverge.Ã¢â‚¬Â On the hill of Calvary the Roman soldier while gazing at the cross of Jesus Christ came to faith with these wordsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ Ã¢â‚¬Å“Truly this man was the Son of God.Ã¢â‚¬Â During Holy Week we hear passages from the Holy Gospel about the Passion of Christ. One comes to realize that literally all the wealth and glory of the Gospel centers on the cross. The cross is the pivot point and center of New Testament thought. It is the exclusive mark for the Christian faith, the symbol of Christianity and its cynosure. The central theme of the New Testament is about the cross and the resurrection. Searching the pages of the New Testament, one finds in every book except in three short epistles (Philemon and Second and Third John) a proclamation of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the Good News. For example, PeterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s sermon on the day of Pentecost centers around the message Ã¢â‚¬Å“Jesus of Nazareth whom you crucified, God raised from the deadÃ¢â‚¬Â (Acts 4:10). The cross is the central theme in the Scriptures, in the apostolic message in the liturgy and Christian hymnody. A large proportion of the hymnology of the earliest Latin, Greek, Coptic, Armenian, and Roman churches, and the churches of the Reformation, dedicated in many languages to the passion of Christ: Ã¢â‚¬Å“Just as I am without one plea;Ã¢â‚¬Â Ã¢â‚¬Å“When I survey the wondrous cross;Ã¢â‚¬Â Ã¢â‚¬Å“There is a fountain filled with blood;Ã¢â‚¬Â and Ã¢â‚¬Å“What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.Ã¢â‚¬Â Jesus calls us to walk under the cross. Ã¢â‚¬Å“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow meÃ¢â‚¬Â (Luke 9:23).
To take up the cross means to identify with Christ, sharing in his rejection, shame, suffering, and death. When I have traveled to Sudan to visit and worship with the Christian community there, I have encountered the faith of brothers and sisters who carry their cross daily and follow Jesus Christ. On one trip, I wrote in my journal, Ã¢â‚¬Å“The living faith of this persecuted church has grown from the cross of Christ. The cross has become their proud symbol of the strength to live and die for Jesus Christ. The followers of Jesus in this land of oppression have adopted the cross to symbolize the only life they want to live. In the sign of the cross they conquer the forces of darkness, oppression, hatred and evil. To them, the cross represents their daily struggle, the pain of betrayal, suffering, affliction and the triumphant faith to follow Christ.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Archbishop Carey has said, Ã¢â‚¬Å“In our Western Church we have lost the dimension of radical discipleship to identify with Christ in the suffering and pain of humanity. We have replaced it with a following of Jesus which is virtually costless. Indeed, some evangelists are guilty of going to the other extreme of offering the carrot that if you accept Jesus, he will solve your problems; help you find a good job, husband, wife, peace, contentment, etc. The motive behind this may be admirable Ã¢â‚¬" it is true, after all that the presence of the Lord is healing Ã¢â‚¬" but the result is a Ã¢â‚¬ËœfilletedÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ Christianity, with sacrifice removed.Ã¢â‚¬Â
To carry the cross of Christ in our lives is not to make a stylish fashion statement or a lifestyle choice. An example of what it truly means comes from is Abdul Rahman, an Afghan who converted to Christianity 17 years ago as an aid worker helping refugees in Pakistan. Last year at the time of his arrest the Afghan police found him carrying a Persian Bible. He was charged with rejecting Islam, which is punishable by death in Afghanistan. In many such places even in the 21st century it is a risky, costly, demanding and often dangerous business to commit oneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s life to live under the cross. It is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor who died under Hitler, called Ã¢â‚¬Å“costly discipleship.Ã¢â‚¬Â The Church itself and our individual lives are ultimately built on faith that must extend beyond belief merely in a theology of prosperity and happy living. It must be a faith that dares to risk, to reach out, to put Christ at our center instead of our selves. The 14th century theologian Thomas a Kempis said, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Jesus now has many lovers of his heavenly Kingdom, but few bearers of his Cross.Ã¢â‚¬Â
To bear the cross is not a romantic idea but a costly venture for Adbul Rahman who had to leave Afghanistan for his safety, and costly for us who want to witness to the redeeming power of the cross of Christ. We just noted that the Iraq war has entered into its sixth year. The Islamic world has already drawn the conclusion that the Christian West is in a crusade against Islam. There is a great wave of hatred towards the Christian church in the Islamic world. How do we carry a cross in such a charged atmosphere? Many of us today are debating the merits of war in Iraq. I would say the response of Christian Cross-bearers is to pray as the LordÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Prayer makes clear, Ã¢â‚¬Å“forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.Ã¢â‚¬Â As people from the West we must extend our hand to the people in Iraq and the rest of the Muslim world in love. Our savior Jesus Christ stretched out his arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone, without discrimination among Jews and Gentile, black or white, Muslim, Hindu or Christian, might come within the reach of JesusÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ saving embrace. The cross of Christ broadcasts as loudly as can be to the world that its message is forgiveness, love and reconciliation among God and human beings.
The cross is the sign of the Christian faith. We are called to live under the cross. It means that every aspect of the life of a Christian believer is shaped and colored by the example of the crucified and risen Christ. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to GodÃ¢â‚¬Â (Ephesians 5:1-2). During this time of war, uncertainty, and chaos let our Lenten prayers direct us to Ã¢â‚¬Å“seek peace and pursue it.Ã¢â‚¬Â Peacemaking is a serious endeavor, as the peace which God promises is never cheap peace. It is always costly as God made peace with sinful humanity through the blood of Jesus ChristÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s cross (Colossians 1:20). In order to work among our human family for justice, peace, the elimination of poverty, and a cleaner environment, and to build bridges between ourselves those who differ with our faith or political ideology, we will have to demonstrate our authenticity as GodÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s children. Nietzsche, an atheist and nihilist, once remarked, Ã¢â‚¬Å“You Christians will have to look a lot more redeemed before I start believing in your RedeemerÃ¢â‚¬Â. I hope and pray that the cross is not just a theological abstraction, but a living reality in our everyday lives, inspiring us to serve God and GodÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s people in our communities and the world.
Shanti, Salaam and Shalom of Christ!