May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! 16As for those who will follow this rule—peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.
One of the key
symbols of our faith is the cross. We see it on the top of the church,
we find it adorning graves, and we wear small ones around our necks.
What I want to explore with you today is the proper place of the cross.
One possible place to
locate the cross is in history, for indeed the crucifixion was an
historical event. The Biblical narrative by John tells us of the
original location of the cross: “So they took Jesus, and carrying the
cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Scull,
which is Hebrew is called Golgotha” (John 19:16b-17). Luke said: “When
they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus
there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left” (Luke
The famous Jewish
historian, Flavius Josephus, who wrote The Antiquities of the Jews, a
history of the Jewish people from creation to the end of the first
century, recorded this in the reign of Pilate:
Now there was about this
time Jesus, a wise man, a doer of wonderful deeds, a teacher. He drew
over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. . . And when
Pilate, at the suggestion of the principle men around him, had condemned
him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him.
And the tribe of Christians, so named for him, are not extinct at this
Thus, there is no
doubt that the cross is a part of the historical events and is properly
located there in the first century. But, is that the only place or even
the best place to locate the cross?
One of the dangers is
that we can simply see the cross as an historical event and nothing
more—something that happened back there, awesome and noble, but with
little relation to the here and now. We can become more comfortable
with the cross located back then because it makes no demands on us; we
can study it as a founding event of our faith and leave it there, in the
Another place that we
can and do locate the cross is in the church. We have indeed placed the
cross in the church and the church has taken it for its symbol. The
cross has been placed on banners, erected on steeples; we have
constructed sanctuaries in its shape, and elevated it to prominence in
the front by the pulpit. It often becomes an architectural element,
carved into the ends of the pews or on doors. It has been covered with
gold or silver or precious jewels, its design has varied to fit its
surroundings. It has been made in miniature so that the church members
and clergy can wear it on rings or on chains around their necks. I
often make it a game to see how many crosses I can find in the church,
especially when I attend a new service.
Here, again, it is an
appropriate place to locate the cross. It belongs in the church and it
can function as an aid to help us remember what Jesus gave for us,
whether it is at the front of the sanctuary or if it is worn as a
necklace. The cross belongs in the church but the church has not always
made appropriate use of it.
The church has
painted out its ugliness, provided it a placed of prominence and
reverence, and then proceeded to forget what it symbolizes. The church
often welcomes its beauty and overlooks its demands. The church has
relaxed in its compassions but has been insensitive to its commands.
The cross indeed stands appropriately in the church as a call to
sacrificial concern, not as simply an object for adoration.
Actually, it is Jesus
himself who tells the proper location for the cross. In the Lukan
passage read this morning, Jesus says: “If any want to become my
followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and
follow me” (Luke9:23).
The old poem puts it
Though Christ a thousand times
In Bethlehem be born,
If he’s not born in thee,
Thy soul is still forlorn.
The cross on Golgotha
Will never save thy soul,
The cross in thine own heart
Alone can make thee whole.
The believer must
take the cross and locate it in his or her life. It cannot be forced
upon us. We have to accept it. And the unavoidable hardships of life
cannot be equated with the cross. Rather, the cross is that which
causes us to step out of our accustomed and anticipated way and clasp it
to ourselves—perhaps first for its comfort and compassion to us, but
then as followers of its insistent challenge. The cross is never
adequately located until it has not only charmed us but has changed us,
until we have moved from admiration for the love it symbolizes to a new
life based on its demands.
At a youth meeting
held in the sanctuary of a church that I served, I noticed a lovely
worship center featuring a beautiful painting of Christ that had been
placed at the front of the church. After the service I happened to move
to the front of the church to converse with someone, and in passing I
looked more closely at the worship center. The lovely painting was made
to stand by being propped against an object a little smaller than the
painting itself which was hidden by the painting. The object it rested
against was a cross!
Here to me is a
parable of our plight. Having created nice and lovely pictures of God
and humanity, of ourselves and the nature of the Christian life, we blot
out the view of the cross; we hide it so that we cannot see it. In the
worship center of our lives we mask the cross and its demands so that we
can paint pictures that are more to our liking.
What does it mean to
locate the cross in our lives? Part of what it means is to be aware of
the needs of all of our brothers and sisters, for whom Christ died. It
means not placing ourselves first but becoming the servant for the
other. It means listening to the pain and suffering that is present in
so many lives. It means deciding where our talents and skills and
knowledge can best be used and then, daily, doing what we can to be
Christ’s hands and feet. It means praying constantly for God’s strength
so that we can take up our cross and follow him.
Let the time be now
during Lent, and the place be in our own lives, when and where we locate
the cross. Jesus calls us to, daily, take up our cross and follow him.
We dare not mask it or try to paint over it so that we will not see its
demands. We need to proclaim with Paul from this morning’s scripture:
“May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus
Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world”
Let us pray:
Father, help us to locate the cross in our own lives so that we may live
in accordance with your call to us to follow you.