As we anticipate heading into Holy Week, the invitation that is shaping my journey is the one that comes from Hebrews 12:2. I want to use this week to once again “fix [my] eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of our faith.”
Walking through those events that took place in Jerusalem almost 2000 years ago gives us the opportunity to once again see Jesus at the height of his glory and the depth of his humility. We get to see the crucified carpenter entering the pit of human despair as he endures the cross, “disregarding it’s shame,” and we get to see the risen Lord victoriously pronouncing peace to a quivering band of followers huddled together in a room while they fearfully anticipate their own arrest after his death. We get to experience the truth of the phrase “God with us” as Jesus participates fully in both our despair and our hope.
A passage of scripture that has helped me to fix my eyes on Jesus is St. Paul’s reflection on the cosmic dimensions of Christ’s life and ministry in Colossians 1:15-20:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
The last line of this hymn to Christ is something that especially catches my attention: “making peace through the blood of his cross.” I find myself wondering how something so violent, so arrogant, so dehumanizing and so hate-filled as death by a Roman crucifixion can create peace. Frankly, if we let ourselves ponder that claim it ought to fill us with, at best, head-scratching confusion or, at worst, revulsion and rage. There is nothing in the act nailing a human being to a cross that even comes close to what we might associate with peace. On its face it is nothing short of a state sponsored lynching in order to make a point about who has power and who doesn’t and so induce fear among the people over whom the state wishes to assert its power.
The cross is not an easy thing to contemplate. I think that is why theologians have been so quick to come up with explanations of Jesus’ cross that reduce it to the metaphor of an economic transaction: a deal worked out between the Father and the Son that benefits humanity. A payment to end the war between God and humanity where humans get out from under the burden of their sin and God gets a just satisfaction for the wrath he feels toward his disobedient creatures. In other words, on the cross Jesus pays the necessary price for our sins and so makes peace between humanity and God. It would not be an exaggeration to say that this has become the predominant way we view the reason for and the effect of the cross of Jesus. Yet here again, I see very little in this explanation that I can associate with the notion of peace.
I can only see peace resulting from this cross of Jesus if I think of the whole saga in terms of God as Trinity. It isn’t a wrathful father being satisfied by a sacrificed son. Rather it is God joining with us in Jesus. God entering into the depths of our shame and despair. God emptying himself of his divine prerogative. God experiencing every human joy and sorrow, pain and exhilaration, glory and degradation. God effectively and finally showing us how nothing can separate us from his love.
The cross of Jesus is God with us in every way. It is ultimate bridge over the chasm of shame and mistrust that separates us from God. It is the loud and clear declaration that there is no reason to continue our futile attempts to run from God by covering our nakedness or pretending we are without need. For God has become naked and needy and so reflected back to us the truth that we are creatures made for relationship with God and one another and that our weakness neither deters his pursuit nor repels his embrace.
Jesus doesn’t merely purchase our peace; Jesus is our peace.
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
Dave Rohrer, 04/10/2019