NO CROSS, NO CROWN
AIM: To proclaim the centrality of the cross.
There are three religious symbols that are recognized the world over: the crescent of Islam, the six-pointed star of David for Judaism, and for Christianity the cross. The cross is at the center of every Christian church the world over, Catholic or Protestant.
The cross hangs round the necks of millions of people in our world who give no particular evidence of deep religious faith or practice. Teachers of young children report that if they offer the youngsters a selection of holy cards and invite them to choose one, they will almost always select the picture of Jesus on the cross.
How can we explain this continued fascination with a horrifying instrument of torture and death? The cross has a magnetism that can never fade because it is a picture of how much God loves us. ANo one has greater love than this,@ Jesus tells us, Ato lay down one=s life for one=s friends@ (Jn.15:13).
Those present on
viewed the cross as an instrument of defeat. In reality, the cross is a symbol
not of defeat but of victory. What looked to the bystanders like a display of
weakness is in reality a source of power. A scene of utter degradation and
shame is actually a place of glory.
We can perceive the cross as a place of victory, power, and glory, however, only if we see behind it the open portals of the empty tomb. Too often we separate the two. The cross alone C Good Friday without Easter C gives us a religion of grimness and gloom. The empty tomb without the cross, on the other hand, is nothing but superficial optimism and empty sentiment. The late Bishop Fulton Sheen said it well: AThe law of Christ is clear. Life is a struggle; unless there is a cross in our lives, there will never be an empty tomb; unless there is a Good Friday, there will never be an Easter Sunday.@
Jesus could not have the one without the other. Neither can we. Take the cross out of Christianity, and you have ripped the heart out of it. Today more than ever a religion is credible only if it is costly. People today say, with the apostle Thomas on the evening of the first Easter day: AUnless I see in his hands the print of the nails ... I will not believe@ (Jn. 20:25).
Perhaps there is someone in this church this evening who is thinking: >What does a priest know about suffering?= And just possibly, you are right C though I can assure you that a priest=s life has, along with great joys, its share of suffering as well: loneliness, misunderstanding, unjust criticism, frustration, disappointment, and for some priests bitter injustice.
But for the sake of argument, I am willing to grant the objection. Say, if you like, that I know little of suffering; that I have a soft and easy life: pampered, coddled, cosseted, put on a pedestal by a certain kind of Catholic; that I am a man with soft hands, clean fingernails, and no aches or pains from heavy lifting. Say, if you will, that I am a stranger to suffering.
But you cannot say that of my Lord. Whatever pain you suffer, Jesus suffered more. Whatever injustice you bear, Jesus bore it first. Whatever loneliness you experience, Jesus was lonelier. As our second reading tells us: AWe do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin@ (Heb. 4:15).
Suffering comes to us all, in one form or another, sooner or later. Why it is so, our Christian faith does not tell us. The existence of suffering in a good world, created and upheld by a loving God, is a dark mystery. Because of the cross, however, because Jesus tasted human suffering in all its bitterness and pain, any suffering we experience becomes the key that one day will help unlock for us the gate of heaven. Let me quote Bishop Sheen again:
AAll of you who have lain crucified on beds of pain, remember than an hour will come when you will be taken down from your cross, and the Savior shall look upon your hands and feet and sides to find there the imprint of his wounds which will be your passport to eternal joy.@
To learn the deepest meaning of our Christian faith we must take our stand beneath the cross and contemplate in silent awe and reverent love the One who hangs there. All the great lessons of life are learned at the foot of the cross.