Meditation Monday – Why Are We Stuck At the Cross?

by Christine Sine
Let Death Give Birth to Life

by Christine Sine

It’s Holy week. Yesterday many of us progressed around the church with our palm fronds singing hosanna, reminding ourselves of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Through the rest of the week we walk with Jesus towards the cross through what I have in previous years called the most subversive week of Jesus’ life. In the past I have said that Jesus’ walk through Holy week begins with this triumphal entry and ends at the cross.

Today as I helped plant our spring vegetables, I was reminded that it does not really end at the Cross at all, but in the new life of the kingdom. Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem was because he had raised Lazarus from the dead. (John 12:9-11. It was because of Jesus’ proclamation of a new way of life, a life in which death was conquered, that they followed him. It is very easy for us to get stuck at the cross, to focus our attention on Jesus’ death and allow the true wonder of Easter to escape us.

Unless a grain of wheat is planted in the ground and dies, it remains a solitary seed. But when it is planted, it produces in death a great harvest. (John 12:24, The Voice)

Death gives birth to life. I don’t plant my seeds and then forget about them.

Are we stuck at the cross in the throes of death when God wants us to burst out of the tomb into new life? Are we stuck at the cross, unaware that the new life of the kingdom is bursting out around us? Are we stuck at the cross unconsciously condoning violence as an acceptable part of our Christian way of life? I thought about this as I read about yet another horrific school shooting this week and saw the incredible resistance to restricting these of assault weapons even amongst Christians.

In their fascinating book Saving Paradise How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker tell us: “It took Jesus a thousand years to die.” Brock and Parker travelled the Mediterranean looking for early Christian art that depicted the crucifixion. Instead they found wonderful images of Christ as a living presence healing, restoration and resurrection in a garden of incredible beauty. If the cross was portrayed it was always with Jesus in front of it in his risen glory welcoming the repentant and reconciled into the kingdom. These are images of paradise- paradise in this world, permeated and blessed by the presence of God.

The authors contend that images of Christ on the cross as the central focus of Christian faith grew out of the sanctioning of war and violence as a holy pursuit. The earliest images of Christ on the cross as the central focus they found appeared in the 10th century in northern Europe and proliferated throughout the Middle Ages. What brought about this change? Brock and Parker believe that it was Charlemagne who began the trend as he spread Christianity by war and violence, subduing the Saxons and forcing them to become Christians. In fact it was in these Saxon churches that the earliest images of crucifixion are found.

When I read this, I was reminded of this of a visit Tom and I made to the Vatican museum many years ago. We walked through room after room of art depicting Jesus on the cross. Much of it with very graphic violence, and often very depressing. Then we went down to the basement, where a hidden away room displayed sarcophagus art from the early church. It was art of resurrection, of healing of celebration and freedom.

Jesus endured the cross, he didn’t revel in it as we sometimes seem to. He looked ahead to the joy of a new world breaking into ours, a world of beauty, healing, and restoration of both people and creation.

Don’t get me wrong. I love to walk the stations of the cross on Good Friday. I need this experience to remind myself of the agony that Jesus went through in order to break the bonds of sin to bring us all to freedom, but I don’t want to stop there. I don’t want to live there in the heartbreak and despair.

The joy of Easter is not Good Friday, but Easter Sunday. This is the end of Jesus’ subversive walk. This is the place we are meant to live. Not on the cross, not in the darkness of the tomb but in the liberating light of God’s new world.

I want to enter into the new life of God, and bring that newness into the lives of those around. I want to see it burst forth into the creation that is still waiting with groaning, looking forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. (Romans 8:21, 22)

Easter Sunday ushers in 50 days of celebration of resurrection life but for most of us by the time the sun sets on Easter Sunday we seem to have forgotten about it completely. We are back to life as usual, just as the disciples were.

In  Acts 10:39-42 we read

“And we apostles are witnesses of all he did throughout Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him to life on the third day. Then God allowed him to appear, not to the general public, but to us whom God had chosen in advance to be his witnesses. We were those who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he ordered us to preach everywhere and to testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all—the living and the dead.

The Cross and the empty tomb are not the important events of Easter, the living presence of God in the resurrected Jesus are. It wasn’t the empty tomb that transformed the disciples and the women who followed Jesus, it was his appearing to them, eating with them, interpreting the scriptures for them. They met the risen Christ in the 50 days after Easter and it changed their lives so that they went out not just talking about the things Jesus did, but living them.

What Is Your Response?

My challenge to all of us today is: Will we hang around long enough to enter into the full joy of the risen Saviour? Will we hang around long enough to encounter the living Christ? When Easter Sunday is over will we be back to life as usual or are we ready to encounter Jesus over the next 50 days, which is the true season of Easter, and have our lives radically changed and redirected as a result?

Watch the video below where Lilly and I talk about other aspects of the kingdom and how we think it can be lived out by all of us today. Reflect on how during this Holy week you could prepare yourself to live out the resurrection in the coming days.

Lent Virtual Retreat 2022Lent continues, the season is still full of possibility and promise. Are you finding ashes and desiring beauty? Now available as an online course, this virtual retreat will help you to lay out your garment of lament and put on your garment of praise. Gather your joys and release your grief with Christine Sine and Lilly Lewin! Click here for more info!

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