The cross is an emblem of torture, agony, and death. When we see the cross, we may have considered Jesus as a powerless victim, but Our Lord was in control of the events of his death. In the Garden, upon the arrival of the High Priest’s police and the soldiers, Jesus asked them for whom it was that they were searching. Jesus initiated this engagement. He did not wait for the authorities to confront him; he confronted those who arrested him. When they said they sought Jesus of Nazareth, Our Lord answered, “I am he.” There was no hesitation or delay. Jesus knew what lie ahead. It was he, who chose our hour of salvation and he chose the manner by which it would come about. Jesus was in control.
Jesus would be faithful to love and non-violence until the end. When in the moment he needed the disciples the most, he thought only of them, “Let them go,” was his cry. When Peter resorted to violence by drawing a sword to cut off the ear of the soldier, Jesus reminded Peter that non-violent love was the way of salvation. Jesus again was in control. Then even at the end, Jesus cried, “It is finished.” It is complete. The work of Christ was complete, he declared it so by loving up to the very last. Jesus did not engage in vindication against the atrocities waged against him, nor did he retaliate against those who crucified him, he remained the loving, obedient servant to the last. He fulfilled and revealed the abundant love of God that has no bounds, even love in the face of rejection.
The cross is a symbol of the salvific work of Christ for creation. Over the centuries there have been multiple theories about the significance of the cross and Christ’s death. There are many theological metaphors used to explain the cross’s significance, and what it means for our salvation. One thing that we can know is that our salvation is linked with our participation in the divine life of God; the life of love, reconciliation, grace, and mercy brought into reality in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. Our separation from God, our choice to live apart from God, has stood in the way of our participation in the divine life.
The work of Christ is central to our salvation, our life with God. God in Christ made possible the reconciliation of humanity unto himself. Our participation in the divine life, became a reality by God’s participation in human life even unto birth, suffering, betrayal and death. Our salvation began on the initiative of God in Christ, who came to participate fully in humanity’s destiny life with God. Faithful to his mission of love and grace, Christ did not give in to the threat of death, and did not thereby engage in the human response of vindication and retaliation. Jesus revealed God’s love and forgiveness even to the end.
Although that day at Golgotha took place 2,000 years ago, all humanity has a role in the death of Jesus. French philosopher Rene Girard states that “neither the Son nor the Father should be questioned about the cause of the event (Jesus’ crucifixion), but all mankind and mankind alone.” [Owen Thomas and Ellen Wondra, Introduction to Theology (Harrisburg, Morehouse Publishing, 2002), 199] Our ongoing choice to move to a violent response to a perceived threat, leads to the development of a scapegoat. A scapegoat is someone or something we can direct the source of the threat, and supposedly at their demise, the threat ends. Jesus was the target of the powers of the time, who perceived his message of love and non-violence to be a threat to their way of life and thus, he was killed. The message of the cross is that God’s love never ends. Jesus did not respond to violence with violence. Jesus remained the loving, grace-filled, Son to the end. In those moments, the tide was changed, the world was never the same, and God declared that there were to be no more victims, no more scapegoats. Our participation in the divine life was made possible, by the fact that the Divine participated fully in the entire human drama, both in the joy and in the darkness. The cross becomes the symbol of God with us, who with outstretched arms, declares, “I love you.”
The cross is where God made possible our salvation. The cross reveals God’s love that subverts retaliation, violence, and vindication. Through the cross of Jesus, we see clearly God’s love. The cross declares that in God’s kingdom, there are no more victims, and that all humanity is called to participate in the divine life of God. We now witness love without bounds. We stand as witness to the world that God invites us all to participate in the divine life of reconciliation, love, grace, forgiveness, and mercy. This is our invitation: to reject violence, to love without bounds, to take up the suffering of reconciliation and restoration, and demonstrate Christ’s love in the world. We gather each week to receive the gifts of the Body and Blood of Our Lord, to strengthen and heal us, to go out into the world to proclaim the love of God.