The Mystery of the Cross
Beloved in Christ,
Yesterday was the Feast of the Holy Cross. In the ancient world, it was laughable for a small Jewish sect to claim that the God of the whole cosmos is revealed most fully in the state execution of a common criminal. Today, the cross is an omnipresent decorative item. And yet, whether we recognize it or not, the cross of Jesus is every bit the scandal today that it was to those who first heard the gospel, and what seems laughable to the world today (and scandalous to many who fill our own pews each week) is the pedestrian version of substitutionary atonement that is so often the primary public face of Christian theology.
The common understanding of “Jesus died for your sins” paints a disturbing picture of God, and suggests the salvation of the world is little more than an economic transaction. The cross is not a concept we are called to understand, but a mystery we encounter. That the almighty and all powerful God chooses to confront the forces of evil, oppression, and injustice by sacrificing God’s very life in love does indeed save and liberate the whole world, but not through cosmic algebra.
The mystery of the cross is that salvation isn’t found in winning, but losing through love; the greatest power is not found in strength, but weakness; the word “lord” does not properly belong to the violent oppressors, but to the suffering servant. The mystery of the cross is that God suffers willingly and profoundly, and is therefore always to be found dwelling in the depths of our own suffering, and in the cries of the world’s poor and oppressed, whoever and wherever they may be.
Our primary call as Christians is not to shore up a declining institution or to cajole our neighbors into joining us through guilt or fear, but to dwell in that divine mystery. Continuing to allow trite platitudes to shape popular imagination about the gospel will not do for the spiritual renewal the church and the world cry out for. It will only come from contemplating, wrestling with, and entering more fully into the depths of the scandalous paradox that lies at the heart of our faith, that all of us together might take our place in the scandalous story of the world’s salvation through love.
Grace and peace,
The Right Reverend Craig Loya