As we talk about the glory and the grief of the Cross, it's unavoidable that we come to the place where we must confess that we simply don't know what to do with it. Perhaps that's how we've come to either ignore the Cross completely or wear it as an adornment.
It's understandable, really, that we are so troubled by the Cross. It's one of the few scenes in all the Gospels where there don't seem to be "people like us" around. When Jesus is in the houses of sinners, we get that; we're the sinners. When Jesus is walking the streets of Galilee, we get that; we're the crowds. When Jesus is in the boat with His disciples, we get that; we're the disciples. But at the Cross?
Where are we when Jesus makes His way to Calvary? Where are we when He cries out? Where are we when He gives up His spirit? A fair reading only suggests really two possibilities, neither of which is particularly palatable. Neither of which is particularly comfortable.
Either we're the soldiers...or we're the thieves.
These are the other people in the crucifixion narrative of the Gospel. These are the guys. This is it. There's Jesus, a few Roman soldiers, and a couple of thieves. The thieves argue between themselves, debating the nature of this Man who is crucified among them; the soldiers carry out orders blindly, unaware of the One whose hands they pierce. To one thief, Jesus says nothing; to the other, He promises paradise; to the soldiers, He speaks forgiveness.
To embrace the silence of the Cross is to fail to acknowledge Jesus at all. That's no good.
To accept an offer of paradise is to confess that you are a thief, to acknowledge your own guilt in the presence of the guiltless. Sound like fun?
To be forgiven is to admit your need of forgiveness, to know that you've done something wrong. Still want forgiveness?
There are no good positions to be on at Golgotha - not on your own cross, not at the foot of His, not standing guard. It's an uncomfortable place to be. And yet, if we insist on being there, on finding ourselves in the story, these are our options. We are the unrepentant thief, the confessional thief (who is still a thief), or the hammer-wielding soldier. Because, of course, we can't be the Christ. (Although, let's be honest here for a minute and admit that we're trying.)
But this is where we are. Always trying to find ourselves in the story, always looking for the people in the Gospels that represent who we are. And yet, partially, if not wholly, unwilling to dare say we could be either a thief or a soldier. Isn't there another option? Isn't there another way? Isn't there another human piece of this culmination of the divine story, somewhere else where we fit in?
The answer is "yes," but you're not going to like that option, either. It's how we got in this whole big mess in the first place....