Cross-Shaped Lives (April 2016)

No sooner are the Christmas cards and decorations removed from the supermarket shelves, than hot cross buns and Easter eggs appear.  It is like retailers want to hurry us through the year, by beginning to sell things a couple of months ahead of their due date.  But I have to confess, I am less bothered by the hot cross buns in January, than I am by tinsel appearing in September.  It is not just because I really enjoy eating those buns(mmm…toasted with butter, nothing better!) – but mainly because I am all in favour of the cross of Christ being made visible to the world in as many ways, in as many places, as much as possible.  Our society doesn’t seem to have much problem connecting with Christmas and baby Jesus. The birth of that miracle baby and all the children’s excitement that goes with it, makes it relatively easy to celebrate.  People seem to connect to the God-with-us idea fairly straightforwardly.  But that kind of faith can be as hollow and sugary-sweet as a chocolate egg, if it is not rooted in the cross.  Jesus’ birth in a stable is without meaning if the reason for his death is not understood.

The cross is so much harder to take on board, and our society doesn’t seem to know how to approach it.  Issues about suffering and death are more difficult for us.  No retailer wants to make images of a piece of equipment used for execution.  They may try to sanitise images of the cross, but it is nevertheless the most terrible means of execution developed by the Romans.  Even so, we will never fully understand why God sent his only Son to live among us, if we do not grasp that he gave Jesus to die for us.

Jesus our Immanuel in Bethlehem may bring us comfort, but God’s comfort would not be as total and real for us, if He had not gone to Jerusalem, if he had not suffered also.  Similarly, we cannot understand Good Friday if we never reach Easter.  The resurrection also demands greater faith if we are to get our heads around it.  Jesus’ death becomes understandable only when we know about the resurrection.   Just as Jesus’ birth only becomes understandable when we know about the cross.  It is like there is a cross-shaped shadow cast over Jesus’ life from the very start.

Our lives as followers of Jesus are meaningless without an understanding of the enormity of the love God has for us.  We come to the fullest understanding of how much God loves us, when we stand at the foot of the cross, aware of how much we have failed him.  When we place ourselves before him, in weakness asking for his forgiveness.  That is when Jesus comes to give us his forgiveness.  That is when we know in our hearts how deep and wide and long and high God’s love is.  That is when we know fully what it is like to receive his forgiveness.  It is only through contemplating the blood of Jesus shed on the cross, and his resurrection, that the enormity of God’s love for us is made real.  And it is only through such an experience as receiving His forgiveness,  that we can begin to know the resurrection power of God working in and through us.  Seeking His forgiveness, and beginning to follow His example, and we then learn to live lives shaped by the cross.

 Tina Upton

mar13_art02image from Parish Pump