On The Cross

by Fr. Charles Irvin

March, 1997



The Cross of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is a sign of contradiction. It is the core symbol of all Christians. It stands at the very summit of Christ’s saving entrance into humanity, and it stands at the very bottom of Christ’s degradation. The Cross confounds non-believers, it discomforts the proud and the ambitious as well as all those who would have themselves be our kings and masters as they lead us into kingdoms stripped away from Truth, Justice, Beauty, Love, and the Common Good. The Cross confounds Satan worshippers and all of the demonic in our world. And yet the Cross of Jesus Christ is a sign of peace, a sign we use to bless ourselves as well as all those persons and things we treasure. And pre-eminently the Cross is proof of how far it is that God has gone to prove His love for you and me. Strangely, mysteriously, and in a seemingly contradictory way, the Cross is a sign of love and life victorious over sin and death. No, it is more! It is not merely a sign or symbol – it is the very reality and proof of God’s love for us. Truly and surely the Cross of our Savior is a sign of contradiction.

The Cross calls us to change the way we see things. It urges us, summons us, and demands that we look at the world and its reality in ways that are different than the vision we might otherwise have under other more ordinary lights. It calls us to see things in God’s light. It calls us to look at our relationships with others, to look at life, and to face death in ways that are inside-out and upside-down from the world’s ways. It causes us to reverse the ordinary we have of looking at and understanding our world.

Take for example the reality of death. The ordinary way is to put cosmetics on a dead person, surround him with greenery and flowers, and then to exclaim in hushed tones “my, how natural he looks”. We speak to each other in words and phrases that hide reality not only in death but in life as well. A Christian, however, should look at death through the Cross of Jesus Christ. A Christian, using the sign of contradiction, contradicts the vision of those who live apart from the Cross, ignoring as they do the truth and the meaning of suffering.

All around us there are those who tell us that if there is a God He is remote and uncaring. They tell us that God is somewhere “out there” in space, or “up there” in heaven totally aloof to our world and its problems. They tell us that perhaps God might exist, but that even if He does He really doesn’t care about our sufferings and that He sits up there in His heaven in benign indifference. The Cross of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is a sign of contradiction to their cynicism. It tells us that God suffers the consequences of the world that He created, that He suffers the consequences of giving us and freedom to choose.

The Cross with Jesus Christ’s body hanging upon it proclaims to all the world that the immortal, all-holy, ineffable, ever-living, and all-powerful God became one of us… that He got involved in all that we are, all that we do, and all that we yearn and suffer for, and furthermore that He took on all of our anguish, all of our failures, all of our malice, all of our hatred, all of our racism, all of our oppressive militarism, all of our proud, preening, and posturing nationalism… that He took it all on with all of our foul impurities, and then suffered the consequences of it all AS A HUMAN just like us.

Read COLOSSIANS 1:15-20:

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation;
16 for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities–all things were created through him and for him.
17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent.
19 For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell,
20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

and PHILIPPIANS 2:5-11

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
8 And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

But what, then, is our response? Do we simply come to Church to thank God for all that we have received from Him? Is our worship simply to proclaim that we are saved, brothers, Amen and alleluia? Do we come to Church on Sunday only to get out of it some sort of “nice” feeling?

We face again the sign of contradiction. And we face it in the mysterious knowledge of faith, and in the clear knowledge that we continue to resist God’s powerful and paradoxical powerlessness. Even though God has become one of us, even though God the Son, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, even though the Christ has become one of us and has suffered the consequences of our own personal sins as well as the corporate sins of our humanity, even though God has done all of that, what has happened is that the power of salvation has only been made available to us. God has offered; we must yet respond.

There is no magic in the Cross of Christ. It is not some sort of rattle that witch doctors wave over you to save you in spite of yourselves. There is no automatic salvation in the Cross. Even though we shout and sing “Lord, Lord…” salvation is still not ours unless we let the Cross become part of our lives. For even though we proclaim Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior those are just empty words on our lips until we bear the weight of the Cross. The sign of contradiction still confronts us… and it will continue to confront us unless and until we appropriate the Spirit of Jesus and let His Holy Spirit become infused into our own spirit, the Spirit He handed over when He expired on the Cross.

Jesus is not a vicarious scapegoat. Jesus is not easy head trip, a nice substitute for dope or pot, a way out of facing our problems. The Jesus hanging upon the Cross calls us, each one of us, to climb up on that Cross and become the hidden person crucified on the other side of the Cross. We shout to Him: “Come down from the Cross and we’ll believe!” But He stays up there –arms outstretched to embrace, but nailed by our refusals of His embrace. His body is still up there on that Cross… silent, moving, summoning us to conversion and change of heart. He stays there, and then He hands over His Spirit… for us to receive.

That is the whole point. That is the crux for our humanity. That is the purpose of His birth. He who was conceived by the Holy Spirit now hands over the Holy Spirit… He who was delivered into our hands delivers His Holy Spirit to us. From the pierced side of His human body water and blood flow out and anoint the Earth. From out of that Temple that is His body flows streams of living water – along with the Spirit of God in the Blood of our Savior flowing forth from His pierced side. That is the whole purpose and point of God’s entrance into our humanity. That is why there is a body on the Cross, for what we have done to Him mirrors what we have done to each other.

The whole world is shaken… turned-upside down… turned inside-out. The event is apocalyptic. A foul, sinful, insensitive, prideful, warring, oppressing, lying, betraying, stealing, cheating, adulterating and polluting race of humanity is washed and cleansed by its Creator hanging upon Cross that we fashioned and created for Him. Now THAT is an awesome spectacle, a heart-stopping and breathless sight. Tremendous silence falls over the cosmos, and the angels ask: “What will men and women do next?”

Here we are face to face with the core mystery. Here we stand, you and I, stripped naked, stripped of all of the games we play, all of our defense mechanisms and rationalizations, stripped of our reluctance, stripped naked and exposed in our moral posturing and our ignoring of God. What is our response to the Cross and the pouring out of the Water and Blood that is the Holy Spirit, the very life, of Jesus Christ?

Vicarious suffering is a myth. What remains is for us to bow down to the Earth and find in it the Holy Spirit with which it has been anointed. What remains is for us to quest, to seek, and to search for the God who is here among us seeking us as He did Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. What remains is for us to live the Gospels, the liberating, glorious, power-full Good News of Jesus Christ. What remains is for us to receive what is pouring out from the pierced heart of the crucified Christ. What remains is repentance and conversion. We cannot strut around town proclaiming that we are Christians. We must convert and humbly admit that we are only becoming Christians. We cannot rely on money, peer group acceptance, reputation, renown, sexual prowess, or a beautiful body… we cannot rely on cosmetics, the beautiful people, our career, the esteem of our colleagues, or our professional reputation… we cannot rely on the political administration in Washington, the military, the laws of the land, or the American Way of Life. We cannot rely on any of these things to save us or make us to be truly brothers and sisters living in the Garden of Paradise. Only the water and the blood that is filled with he presence of Christ’s Holy Spirit that is flowing from Christ’s pierced side can save us.

Yes, the Cross is foolishness for the worldly and a scandal for the secular humanists. It is foolishness for all of those who squirm at the sight of a human being dying on that Cross. It is a scandal for all those who think there is no God other than the one they call Man; they can’t stand the sight of the body of Christ on the Cross because it tells them than Man is not God. And the Cross contradicts all of those who consider self-sacrifice as masochistic and who try to tell us that when it comes to religion we must be neutral and uncommitted. Being “neutral” and “uncommitted” is the antithesis of true religion.

The Cross is a tremendous sign of contradiction. It overturns our expectations. It defies the predictions of the scoffers. It defies all human predictions and upsets all human standards because it tells us that it is the prerogative of God to bring life out of death and good out of evil. It rubs our noses in the humiliating awareness of the truth that only God can do that.

The Christian is raised up with Christ on the Cross in order to share in the sufferings of Jesus Christ. The Christian rejects notions of vicarious suffering and the theology of Christ the Scape-Goat. The Christian joins Christ in accepting the reality that because of human decisions, sinful decisions, all birth and new life come to us through suffering and pain. But the Christian also has the privilege of knowing that, because of Jesus Christ, any suffering can be made to be productive and salvific – even creative. Why? Because the Cross is God’s message to us that conflict, pain, and suffering can lead us to a resolution of our conflicts and thus bring us to genuine peace and new life.

Conflict avoidance only maintains conflict, it only hides and the pain and suffering that the conflict still engenders. Merely coping with our conflicts leads us to rise above them only with mental gymnastics. Coping is merely a mechanism, it is never a resolution. The Cross cuts through all of that. The Cross, like a two-edged sword, lunges into us so deeply that we get to the core of our conflicts and arrive at resolutions that are genuine and true and which consequently lead us to authentic peace. The Cross takes us into that level of existence where it is God’s prerogative to bring life out of death, good out of evil, order out of chaos, and peace out of pain.

There is no vicarious suffering and death for the Christian. To be a Christian means to live in the mystery of the Passover – passing over death and through death into new life. The Christian knows that in God all things are happening. In God everything exists in the present tense, active, of all verbs. In God creation is not something that has happened, it is happening. In God redemption is not something that has happened, it is happening. In Christ our Savior, birth, life, death, resurrection, and new life, and ascension to divinity are realities that are on-going and continually happening. The Last Supper is called “last” because it is still going on and there’s no time for another. And Good Friday is called “Good” because God is continually bringing good out of evil, light out of darkness, life out of death in the ever-living and ever-present Mystical Body of Christ.

Is anyone among you sick? It is Christ who is suffering. Is any one of you the victim of racial hatred? It is Christ who is victim. Is any one of you oppressed by an economic system that degrades and impoverishes you, that renders you more and more powerless each day? It is Christ who suffers. And it will all go on and continue. Christ will continue to be crucified and the world will taunt and jeer and demand that He come down from the Cross. It will all continue to happen until Christianity is no longer for us merely an interesting theory, a curious academic subject to investigate and perhaps dabble in, and maybe eventually try. It will all go on and the Cross will be raised up in our midst and Christ will continue to suffer – unless and until enough people make Christianity a genuine reality in our world.

Did you ever wonder why the Catholic Church keeps the body of Christ represented on the Cross? Well, it is because on it humanity remains naked and exposed. Humanity has not yet fully received the Holy Spirit, the Spirit that Christ handed over when He died on the Cross. Humanity has not yet allowed itself to be raised in glory by the power of God. Until that day comes, we, the children of Adam and Eve, know that we are naked. We need to see ourselves up on that Cross. Until that day comes the silence of the angels will continue and heaven will wait in the stillness of expectation, holding its breath for our response.

And so, my friends, on this Good Friday, let us stand with Mary His mother, with the other Mary, and with young St. John, and be anointed by the Water and the Blood that drips down from the pierced side of our Savior. Let us allow His thoughts to be our thoughts, His love to be our love, His heart to be our heart, His flesh to become our flesh, His blood to mingle with our blood. And let us then go forth from this Friday which is called Good and begin to live His life once again, hidden in the busy-ness of men and women now – but perhaps one day, because of you and me, revealed in glory. Then Easter will be real and Earth will again become the new Garden of Paradise having blossomed forth from the Garden of the Resurrection, the Tree of the Cross being now the Tree of Life that God planted in the middle of our world in order that we might have life, and have it abundantly.

 


About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”