For all of my Christian life, I've had a lot of questions about the Cross. Questions about why we wear this Cross around our necks. If we claim to love Jesus, why do we celebrate His brutal death? Questions about why this has become our story, when the empty tomb was so much more of a miraculous thing. Questions about why, since I became a Christian, others have wanted to celebrate my Christianity by giving me emblems of the Cross. Like I'm supposed to collect Crosses because I'm a Christian. Like it's supposed to mean something to me.
If we're being honest, the Cross, for the longest time, didn't mean anything to me. It was just a sign, just a symbol. It was the mark of a Christian, but I wasn't sure that I bought into it. I didn't want to be defined, as a Christian, by the Cross. And the more I tried to embrace the symbol-ology of it all, the less it meant.
And I'm going to say this, and maybe it sounds really bad coming from a Christian, but I don't think you can love Jesus without the Cross. You can like Him. You can appreciate His ministry. You can, to an extent, embrace His example. But I don't think you can love Him. Because without the Cross, He's just a guy. He's just a dude doing some really cool, incredibly powerful things. He's a Man of faith, enviable faith, but He's lacking that certain something that makes Him a Man of God. You might as well be one of the blind men on the side of the road whose story isn't told. A man who cried out but wasn't answered. Or at least, wasn't important enough to be remembered. You might as well be one of the extras in Simon's house at the dinner, one of those standing off in the corner watching the woman pour out her perfume, watching the Pharisee condemn her for it, watching the disciple squirm at the wasted money, watching Jesus tenderly love her. Wishing He loved you.
You just can't connect with Him without the Cross.
But with the Cross....with the Cross, suddenly, there's something about this Man. It doesn't matter what you cry out at the Cross; it's right there. God is right there answering that very thing. He's speaking straight into your story the way you always dreamed He would. Are you struggling with shame? The bloody, beaten, naked Jesus hanging before you knows a thing or two about shame. Is your battle against anger? He's angry. Do you fight against fear, grief, resentment, uncertainty, doubt? So does He. Right there on the Cross, you can't help but see it. There's an interesting story about the grief of Jesus on the Cross, and you can only catch it in the Greek but it changes the way I think about the Man on the Tree. You know when He says, "Father, forgive them..."? He doesn't just say it. He continues to say it. He says it over and over again. Now, it doesn't feel like a command of God, like a measure of grace; it feels like a grief. Doesn't it? If He says it again and again and again, can't you just see Him shaking His head in fragile sadness, trying to grasp, as so many of us do, what's even going on here?
On the Cross, He answers your blindness because He's beginning to show you more than your eyes could ever see. He opens your ears to hear the sounds of grace poured out. Every word He speaks - for the thief, for the centurion, for the disciple, for his mother, for the crowds, for the Father, for Himself - is a word spoken for you. You get to hear what love sounds like, which is this hauntingly beautiful mixture of grace-filled truth and tearing flesh. The Cross puts words on your tongue, even when it feels like it has taken them all away. We don't know what to say in response to the Cross; we have no words. And yet, it is because of the Cross that we dare speak at all.
And the Cross is the place where you become more than a bit character in God's cosmic drama. No longer are you the blind man whose story is not told; your story is wrapped up in the Cross and preserved for all time. No longer are you the guest in the corner, watching the scenes unfold before you; you are center stage. God is answering your questions, accepting your gift, disciplining your pride, embracing your heart, opening your eyes, rebuking your spirit, loving you. That's all on the Cross. That's where the two of you come together. That's where you meet. That's where God starts to mean something.
The Cross means something to me these days, although I find it hard to articulate exactly what that is. In essence, it means everything because I understand that it is the crucified Christ who has the answers for most of my questions, the comforts for my hard times. And it's not because I have been given the Cross. That's too easy. It's like all of the emblems I've been given by people who have wanted to celebrate that I am a Christian. It's nice, and it means something, but it's not that powerful a meaning.
It's because I choose the Cross. It's because I go to Calvary to encounter my Lord. It's because I dare look up at His bruised and broken body. It's because I dare not turn away. It's because I believe in the story He's telling, which is more than His story; it's my story, too. And it only makes sense here. It only matters here. There's only one way to live it, and that's in the shadow of death.
As a matter of theology, let me also say this: the empty tomb may have its own grand celebration, but eternal life is nothing without reconciliation. Easter Sunday is nothing without Good Friday. Forever is nothing without the Cross.