Cathblog - The meaning of the Cross

BY JOEL HODGE

At Jesus’ death, the Gospels recount cosmic and liturgical acts occurring, such as the temple veil being torn in two.

These acts present to us the fulfilment of God’s action in history in which God is present to and reconciled with creation – God in Jesus bursts out of the temple offering his Spirit as sacrifice to reconcile the world to Himself.

In the midst of this, we hear the centurion’s cry - exemplifying redeemed humanity’s cry: ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’ (Mk 15:39). This act of true perception and faith on behalf of the Gentile centurion crucifying Jesus occurs not under the influence of power or miracles, but in being present to Jesus in Jesus’ death.

It is at Jesus’ death – when he breathes his last – that persecuting humanity (which is exemplified in the centurion) recognises the truth and submits to it. The centurion, who had believed in the divine Roman Emperor (called a son of God by the Romans), finds that true divinity is not in power and violence, but in the just man who loves “to the end” (Jn 13:1); who gives himself fully and freely for humanity.

Truth is a Person who Loves; and life is a response to this love in faith. Everything that Israel should have recognised, instead is recognised by the ‘idolatrous’ Gentile who perceives because of Jesus’ death: ‘He [Jesus] has accomplished the utter fullness of love – he has given himself’ (J. Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth Part Two, p. 223).

It is this simple, pure act of love – made in the midst of overwhelming pain and violence – that reveals divinity as well as eliciting our true humanity.

The Resurrection allows us to recognise this pure act of love as from the pure being of love. It frees us from the distortions and lies of human culture, which inflicts violence and death to impose power, counter threats, punish failures and take from others.

In the Resurrection, moreover, God interprets the Crucifixion (and the whole of history) for us: it is as an act of love to reconcile humanity to itself and God (H. McCabe, God, Christ, and Us).

Rather than the punishment of a criminal or the failure of a leader, the Crucifixion is the act of the true human, the fully human.

Thus, God is offering humanity an answer to its deepest questions: How can I be truly human? How can I be happy? How can we overcome the evils and divisions that hurt and prevent real unity and happiness amongst the human race?

The answer: only in the Love that gives itself to redeem a lost humanity – ‘Father, forgive them, they know not what they do’ (Lk 23:34) – and emerges from the other side of the worst of human actions and experiences – ‘they persisted in calling for his crucifixion, and their voices prevailed’ (Lk 23:23) – to overcome death and violence – ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit’ (Lk 23:46).

The Christian message is clear: Love overcomes violence and death! Death is not the final answer, but is subject to God who is love.

Thus, in the midst of death and violence, there is hope for humanity. Hope comes with the one who gives up on the path of self-assertive pride and grasping – of building identity over against others.

The rejection of the violent world leads to suffering and death, but it also leads to Resurrection.

The Love that lasts until the end – that endures even death and hands ‘all things’ over to God and to others in self-giving – is that which cannot be destroyed and draws ‘all people to myself’ (Jn 12:32). In Jesus, the great cosmic liturgy of Atonement is complete: God hands himself over as Lamb of God to cleanse humanity of sin and evil with his love.

All injustice is taken up and overturned in the Resurrection.

God’s final word is to destroy death’s final word over our lives – giving Jesus his whole life back (and so, to us, too, as we become part of his body). In the risen life, all death, violence and injustice are subsumed into the life of love. In other words, death and love – evil and good – are not equal competitors facing off against each other. Life is not an us-and-them game characterised by wars and ‘over againsts’.

Love is the greatest of all, subsuming all things in itself and transforming them to be better than anything that could be imagined. We experience this in a small way even now in the love that we share with God and others.

Even though evil, pain and death seem all-powerful, they ultimately subside in the shadow of love. The pain of life, however, is not just wiped away without acknowledgement and healing.

Jesus carries his wounds in the Resurrection, but he carries them in God’s love, which heals and enables him to be healing for others: ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you’ (Jn 20:21).

This is not easy, but it is possible – the Crucifixions of this world need not have the final word over us, if we can allow love to transform our lives slowly and meaningfully as we face our pain, hurt and enemies.

Thus, the Crucifixion and Resurrection show us that the divine life confronts and subsumes all things, even violence, evil and death. Jesus returns to us not for vengeance, as the disciples in the upper room feared when they first saw Jesus and thought he was a ‘ghost’ come to haunt them; cf. Lk 24:36-43).

Instead, he approaches us with all-encompassing forgiveness that redeems all evil – even the worst evil that kills God’s Son – and brings real peace, joy and unity.

 

Joel Hodge is a lecturer in theology at the Australian Catholic University in Melbourne. Image: Flickr.

Disclaimer: CathBlog is an extension of CathNews story feedback. It is intended to promote discussion and debate among the subscribers to CathNews and the readers of the website. The opinions expressed in CathBlog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference or of Church Resources.

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