The Spirituality of the Cross
The Cross of Calvary is the most recognised logo in the history of the human community. More so than the Islamic crescent, Santa Claus, Facebook, Twitter or Coca Cola. It stands stark and high in the human imagination. The crucifix form has Jesus hanging on the cross. The empty cross is the symbol not only of death by execution but also of resurrection. It is said that someone once went in H Samuel's and asked to buy a gold cross pendant. The assistant asked the customer, 'Do you want a plain wan or wan wi' a wee man on it'.
The Christian Cross means many things. It is a rebuke to the human community because this was Jesus who went about doing good. Jesus did tackle the powers that were in the land at the time but on the basis of spiritual revival not on the basis of politics. Jesus did speak out against corruption and the false worship of God which prevailed at the time. With hindsight we can see that His was a huge revolution in our understanding of God. It could not be contained within Judaism. Like new wine in old wine skins it burst asunder and flowed out into the whole world. Jesus did present himself as an offering because he went to Jerusalem knowing that if he did so, he would surely meet death. The way to the new knowledge of God for us was for Jesus by way of suffering and dying a cruel death. We humans don't like to be wrong and we don't like to be corrected and we don't like to have to apologise. We are prideful and spiteful creatures at times. The Cross of Calvary is a cross of criticism of humanity. It puts into a different perspective all that humans aspire to and accomplish. It is also a constant reminder in human history of how wrong humans can be. And it is historic evidence of our cruelty and violence and in Jesus' specific case (because many people were crucified in the Roman Empire) of hurt, betrayal, loss and abandonment, of loneliness, nakedness and total humiliation. In his last hours and minutes Jesus was mocked. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, 'You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!' In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. 'He saved others', they said, “
'but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’' In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him. This then was complete defeat, name, reputation, words, work, witness all negated by his end. For all purposes Jesus left this world comfortless. Out of this abject misery and degradation came beautiful Christianity. How could it have done? Except that Jesus was indeed the Son of God and no ordinary human being.
How do you think our culture and society regards this cross of Christianity, this cross of Jesus? The truth is that it does not have a clue. Human nature is to avoid something so critical and definitive of our character and values. Humans spend their years running away from issues, avoiding responsibilities, drowning their sorrows, absolving their own consciences, seeking artificial consolations, inoculating their minds against the realities of their personal life's circumstances, their choices and decisions. Why do people follow football teams? For a moment of glory to set against the daily grind. Why do people get involved in politics? To try to change things and thereby make it easier for them to live with themselves. Politicians are living out the contradictions of their own inner lives. They are usually found out by later history. That is not to say that they cannot achieve something or indeed much. But the tension between self-promotion and living with your knowledge of who and what you really are is great. Most of our idols turn out to be hollow people with cold feet. Denis Law the Scottish footballer used to feel nervous when people made it one of their life's ambitions just to meet him. He knew that they would be disappointed in him, face to face. He said 'No-one should ever meet their idol'. The illusion is shattered by reality. Royalty is constructed on such illusion. Royals may or may not be very nice people. They may be gracious in public because they cannot survive not being so but they play a role which they can leave behind in private. Many famous people and high achievers are not nice people. The drive and ambition that has taken them to the top excludes being nice. Once people have succeeded they can change and relax and be more accommodating. It may be accurate to say that in our time the attitude of our society, nation and culture to the Cross of Jesus is of indifference and ignorance.
There are two contemporary ideologies which deny the Cross of Jesus. Human rights legislation is the basis for legal challenges to nearly everything that happens. If someone feels disadvantaged or has a grievance the catch-all umbrella European human rights legislation can be used to seek recompense and satisfaction. Strasbourg court's judgements are already costing the taxpayer £2 billion a year. At least seven new cases are being lodged against Britain at the European Court of Human Rights every day, causing a huge backlog and a massive bill for UK taxpayers. Official figures released by the court revealed yesterday that the total number of cases pending against Britain rose from 1,690 in 2009 to 3,172 last year.
Criminals detained at Broadmoor and other psychiatric hospitals claim it is discriminatory to prevent them claiming Income Support, pension credits or Jobseeker's Allowance, which are paid to some of their fellow patients. For example, it could lead to Ian Brady, the Moors murderer who is now aged 73, claiming up to £132.60 a week in pension credits and Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, claiming a similar sum when he reaches the State pension retirement age in June this year. The spiritual issue here in relation to the cross is this. Human self justification leaves no place for the redeeming grace of God in Jesus Christ. A system of human rights sets itself against the Christian claim that humans are sinners in need of redemption. These can be made to work along side each other to some extent but only so far. The claim that humans need salvation can be challenged on the basis on human rights. Are we entirely responsible for our inherited behaviour? Can we be blamed for everything we do wrong? Is eternal punishment proportionate for our human time-bound earthly wrong-doing? Human rights ejects God from sovereignty over human lives. It challenges God's nature and place in creation. The Christian way is one which does not insist on rights but seeks guidance and loving divine providence. It seeks the good of the other person even at personal cost. It always looks for reconciliation. The world doesn't work this way. And Christians can also benefit from human rights legislation which protects faith expression to some extent. But to tell people these days they need to go to their own Calvary and become transformed into new people by the resurrection power of Jesus Christ is a contradictory message to the philosophy behind the human rights based culture that we live in.
The second ideology is Islam which denies the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Muslims believe that God rescued Jesus from the schemes of the unbelievers and raised Christ to heaven. The general Islamic view is that someone else was crucified in Jesus' place, with most Muslims believing that Judas Iscariot was the one whom the unbelievers killed. According to this majority view of modern Islamic scholarship Judas was made to look like Jesus on the night when Christ was to be crucified. The unbelieving Jews thought that they had crucified Christ when in reality it was Judas that they had killed. The idea that Jesus did not die on the cross stems from the Quran in S. 4:157-158: "And because of their (the Jews) saying: We slew the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, Allah's messenger- they slew him not nor crucified him, but it appeared so unto them; and lo! those who disagree concerning it are in doubt thereof; they have no knowledge thereof save pursuit of a conjecture; they slew him not for certain. But Allah took him up unto Himself. Allah was ever Mighty, Wise."
The denial of Calvary has much to do with Arab culture being unable to accept the validity of humiliation, failure and defeat. All the great Christian spiritual categories are rejected, sin, confession, redemption, new life in Christ, forgiveness, grace and peace. Personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ is rejected as a possibility – Christian knowledge of God is replaced with an alternative based on distance between humanity and Allah, subjugation, violence and retribution. Christians are despised for weakness, not valued for humility. All the gentler tendencies of Christ have no place in the struggle for world conquering. Christian truth is set aside for a contradiction. Once the truth is set aside nothing is stable. There is and can be no trust, no meeting place. That is why Islam is as it is in the world today and why it cannot change. It can never become Christian. It cannot from within its own origins and Scriptures become anything other than it is. And so it seeks remorselessly to dominate the entire world through violence. All this has changed western life and society and we live in fear as Muslims want us to. But we also have much to blame ourselves for and to confess. Western society has become degenerate, materialistic, largely godless, self indulgent and replete of all kinds of wickedness. Muslims regard us as immoral and unclean. Hence their zeal to convert us by force.
The Cross of Jesus is our beacon of hope, our light in a dark place, and for all its pain and horror – it is our recovery and our eternal salvation. 'Have you been to the foot of the cross?' evangelists used to cry. 'Burdens are lifted at Calvary', they sang. 'Have you surrendered to Jesus Christ, your life, your sin?' they challenged. The Cross is the symbol of personal spiritual awakening through consciousness of sin, of dying to what and who we are at a given time and of seeking to be redeemed and to become a new and different person – for the better. We each must go to our own Calvary and die there that we might be born again to live in the presence of the risen Jesus and enjoy his friendship blessing and guidance all our days. That is the Christian offer, the Christian option, the Christian way. Have you been there then? Have you travelled that way, within your soul and being?