"We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ -the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength."
(I Cor. 1. 23-25)
Great excitement! Three years ago an Anglo-Saxon burial ground was discovered at Trumpington, near Cambridge. Why the fuss? Archaeologists had found a grave, containing probably the earliest Christian remains to be found in England. The deceased was probably a sixteen year old girl of noble birth, possibly a princess. She died some 13,00 years ago. And why was she thought to be a Christian? Because she was buried with a cross, sown to her dress! That cross was a clear, unmistakable sign that she had been a follower of the crucified and risen Christ; she had placed her hope of eternal happiness in Him. An object close to her heart in life was placed close to her heart in death!
That cross identified her as a Christian. So, too, with us. We were baptised with the sign of the cross and in the name of the Blessed Trinity. The cross gave us our identity, as it did the teenage girl long ago. Like her, we proudly wear a crucifix to proclaim our allegiance to our crucified and risen saviour.
But to unbelievers we Christians must seem to be mad; we wear a crucifix and have one in our homes! After all, crucifixion was the brutal way the Romans executed criminals. The cross was the instrument of torture and death. Crucifixion was meant to be slow and very painful. The criminal was lifted on high so that all could see his suffering and mock him –a sure deterrent for anyone thinking of following the trouble-maker’s example. Jesus Himself was lifted on high on the cross. He was mocked, ridiculed. He was dismissed as a miserable, tragic failure. The Romans and the Jewish authorities seemed to have achieved their purpose. They had silenced the rebel! Or so they thought.
So, why do we Christians glory in the cross? Why do wear with pride the instrument of execution? What was so special about Jesus’ crucifixion; what made it so different from the thousands of others, crucified by the Romans? Not the physical pain and mental anguish, which they all suffered. The Turin Shroud, which many venerate, can only tell us how Jesus died. It can never tell us what His crucifixion achieved –why, today, especially, we honour the crucified Christ as a triumphant success, not a tragic failure.
To enter the mystery, the meaning, of Christ’s death, look prayerfully upon a crucifix. There you will see an image of the Son of God –the Almighty creator of heaven and earth –nailed helplessly to the cross. There you will see the All-Holy One condemned as a criminal. There you will see an apparent defeated failure -triumphant, victorious. The man mockingly crowned with thorns is enthroned on the cross, as Lord of heaven and earth. Far from being brought low He has been raised on high, exalted, triumphant –not to be mocked, but to be honoured for what He achieved on the cross. That’s why St. Paul says,
"Far be it from me to glory except in the cross of Christ crucified," (Gal. 6. 14).
As we gaze upon the crucified Christ we see the triumph of goodness over evil, life over death, love over malice. His love for us has overcome all the forces of evil arraigned against Him and against us. He has released us from the quagmire of sin and death. The crucified Christ has set us free! As we gaze upon the crucified Christ it’s as though, as man, Jesus stretched one hand to His heavenly Father. As God He reached with the other hand to us sinners. In His crucified body He has drawn man and God together; combining His divine and human love for us He has broken down the barrier of sin which kept us apart. As St. Paul tell us,
"…through him -the crucified Christ -God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of His cross," (Col. 1. 20).
Look again at the cross. You will see that the crucified Christ has turned our secular values upside down. As He emptied himself of the honour and glory, which was rightly His as God, Jesus has undone the pride, which is at the root of all sin. Surprisingly, through weakness He achieved more than the mighty and powerful could ever do. Surprisingly, Jesus achieved more when He was nailed, helpless, to the cross than during His active ministry, when He was healing and teaching. Stripped of everything, the crucified Christ teaches us not to place our eternal hope in material wealth and success. In sacrificing His life, in obedience to His Heaven Father’s will, Jesus has shown that the way to fulfilment and greatness is for us to commit our whole lives to serving God and each other. If we are suffering, we can draw comfort by identifying with the agony of the crucified Christ. We can draw encouragement and hope from His victory over evil. Far from destroying us, our sufferings and death, like Christ’s, can be the gateway to eternal glory.
In Christ’s crucifixion we see the triumph of love over malice, goodness over evil, life over death. God has used the horrific instrument of execution –the cross –to achieve His purpose –the salvation of the world. This will seem madness to non-believers, but for us it is the wisdom of God, which defies human logic. In the crucified Christ we see the sublime folly, the extravagance, of God's love for us.
That’s why we glory in the cross and honour the crucified Christ, especially today! That’s why we, like the teenage girl, long ago, wear a crucifix.