I know of no other religion than Christianity that has an instrument of torture, humiliation and death as a symbol of its faith. The cross that hangs in every Christian church, in Christian homes and on chains around the necks of Christians represents the instrument used by the Roman empire during the time of Christ to punish the most serious offenders against Rome. It was the most painful and humiliating way they could imagine to put criminals to death. The cross became the altar of sacriﬁce on which Jesus offered himself for the remission of our sins. Because Christ gave his life on a cross for us despite our unworthiness, the cross is one of the greatest signs of God’s love for humanity. About the cross St. Paul wrote, “may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been cruciﬁed to me, and I to the world.” (Gal. 6: 14) “….we preach Christ cruciﬁed, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ (is) the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Cor. 23- 24.)
Because Paul had been raised a very devout, faithful Jew, Christ’s death on the cross was a stumbling block for him. It did not agree with his expectation of the awaited Messiah. The Messiah awaited by the Jews for so many years was supposed to ﬂee them from their captors not be put to death by them. Because of the Paul, like and Jews, questioned how could Jesus, whom the Romans put to death like a common criminal, be the Messiah? Thus Paul initially felt compelled to search out Jesus’ followers as heretics and imprison them. But, on one of Paul’s journeys to imprison Christians, the risen Christ appeared to Paul and revealed to him the truth of who He was in a way that Paul could not deny. Paul responded by becoming a zealous apostle of Christ who spent the rest of his life proclaiming the Good News of Jesus to Jews and non-Jews alike. To the Greeks, who found pleasure in discussing deep philosophical thoughts, it seemed foolish to follow someone who had been crucified. Few Greeks were willing to accept Christ. But Christ demonstrated by his death on the cross and his resurrection that He did not come into the world to conquer evil with an army. He came to conquer evil by personally becoming the sacriﬁce for our sins. He came to teach by word and example how to achieve a world at peace through love and respect for one another. St. Peter wrote: “…while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him (the Father) who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.” (l Peter: 23-25)
During the Holy Tritium, the ﬁnal three days of Lent preceding the Easter Sunday celebration of Christ’s resurrection, the Church solemnly Venerates the passion and death of Christ on the cross. People approach the cross to touching it, kissing it, genuﬂecting before it, etc. as a sign of their praise to Jesus for offering his live for our sins.
Jesus’ passion was both mental and physical. Mentally He endured betrayal by Judas, denial by Peter, the rock on whom he would build is church and the humiliation of dying like a common criminal. Only his mother Mary, the apostle John and a few women accompanied him during his passion and death. Physically he endured scourging with barbed whips, being crowned with a crown of thorns, having to carry with his wounded body the cross on which he would be cruciﬁed and than the crucifixion itself, as if he were a criminal.
Jesus accepted all of this suffering for us so that we would not have to suffer what we deserve for our sins. God became man as Jesus to become our true lamb of sacriﬁce on the altar of the cross for our sins. Paul wrote, “Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2: 8-11)
Jesus taught by example that our suffering in life is not without meaning. It is through our suffering that our faith is tested and we are able to accept God’s saving activity in our lives. Jesus taught, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will ﬁnd it. For what will it proﬁt a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds.” (Matt 16: 24-27)
Lent is the season to ask ourselves, “Do I live to achieve worldly success or do I live to do what I believe to be the will of God for me? Do I accept the suffering that comes my way by uniting it with the suffering of Christ for the beneﬁt of sinful souls or do I grumble to God? Do I pray for his grace and his strength? Do I keep God a part of my home and my family each day or only when I have some need or when I go to Church? God took on our humanity in Christ so that he could live among us and be a part of every home, every day.
The greatest example of God’s love for us is the cross, the passion and death Jesus suffered for our sins. The resurrection and ascension reopened heaven for us but without the sacriﬁce of the cross for our sins we would not be able to enter.
On Easter we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ and the gift of eternal life secured for us by the death Christ was willing to suffer for us. Christ suffered the agony of the cross while praying to His Heavenly Father, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” The cross used by Rome to punish criminals symbolized the cruelty of evil. The cross, as it was used by Christ, is the symbol of God’s love for the world in need of redemption and the means God used to achieve our redemption. Let us accept the graces offered to us during the seasons of Lent and Easter. Let us live our faith joyfully and openly every day and invite others to live lives of faith while we await in hope the day we will be with Christ forever in Heaven.
Featured Image: Christ on the Cross