One of my favorite features about this church building are the crosses. Before we enter the sanctuary, a large cross hangs over the doorway. Above the altar space, another large cross looms silently but still speaking volume. And then, from a distance, we can see the large roof slope upwards, forming a crown with a cross on top. These crosses do more than provide a nice place for birds to sit. Each cross proclaims this is where Christians are.
But in the words of Sharon Ringe, professor emerita of Wesley Seminary, “With its exalted status as the focal point of our faith, the cross has lost its power to scandalize.” In the years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, crosses did not show where Christians were. Crosses were located at the edge of cities marking the palaces where people died. Crosses were used to execute slaves or those accused of committing treason against the Roman Empire. Crosses were symbols of pain and suffering. Each cross proclaimed this is where the Empire won.
Our reading from Hebrews is an attempt by the early faith community to “articulate the religious meaning of the cross in imagery and language powerful enough to transform the immediate horror it represented.” The cross is never plain. The cross always points to those who used it. The Roman Empire saw Jesus as a threat during the yearly Passover celebration. Pontius Pilate used the cross to eliminate the problem violently and completely. Good Friday remembers this violence and the world that uses violence to punish others.
But Good Friday also remembers what happened next. The cross was the Roman Empire’s ultimate symbol of pain and death. Yet in the least likely place anyone would reasonably looked, God showed up to save the world. Jesus did not run away from death. Rather, Jesus confronted it. Jesus saw the violence, pain, and love of power inherent in the world. And he lived, taught, and died showing there is a different way to be. The cross is a symbol of horror that became a symbol of life because God does not let death triumphant over hope and love.
Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for Good Friday, 4/14/2017.