GOD IN THE DEPTHS
- by Bishop David, published in the All Saints' Gazette, April 2000
So often in our culture the cross is experienced as a beautiful ornament. People wear gold and silver crosses around their necks; great cathedrals have jewel encrusted crosses on their altars. This, of course, reflects the place that the cross occupies in Christian devotion, because of the death of Christ, our Lord and Saviour.
But Cicero commented: "It is the most cruel and shameful of all punishment. Let it never come near the body of a Roman citizen - not even his thoughts or eyes or ears". Crucifixion was for criminals; it involved unbearable thirst, stabbing pain, psychological torture and a slow lingering death.
Christian devotion to the cross - evident from the earliest days as we see from the holy graffiti on the walls of the Catacombs in Rome - struck non-Christians as a most peculiar thing. As Richard Holloway once pointed out, the modern equivalent might well be a decorated gallows, or even a brightly painted model of a brain tumour hung over an altar.
Yet for us the cross - the sign of weakness, tragedy and defeat - is the centre of life, the centre of history and the centre of the universe. He who hangs there is entirely innocent. His suffering are undeserved. He is betrayed by a friend and executed after a mock trial.
He had said to his followers: "The Son of Man will give his life as a ransom for many", and "When I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all men unto myself". Behind this death is the design of God's redeeming love. Indeed, we audaciously say it is God who dies that day.
On the cross God enters the very depths of our human experience, even the tragedy of that ultimate sense of forsakenness we find haunting our culture and dominating so much contemporary art, music and literature.
He hangs there bearing the weight of our sins so that we can be forgiven.
He suffers in his human flesh. He reaches out to us from within his sufferings to support and strengthen us. From the cross he gathers to himself the brokenness and sinfulness of the whole world, transforming it from within by the power of his suffering love.
On the cross hangs the human flesh of God, suspended between heaven and earth, unleashing torrents of forgiving, redeeming love into the world we had made the gutter of the universe.
From the cross that anguished look of suffering love melts our hearts into a response that at least in its intention can be no less than total.
The early Christians did not see the cross as a miserable defeat followed by the Father's intervention to turn things around at the Resurrection. No! For them the cross itself is the victory. On the cross our salvation is won; on the cross Jesus triumphs over the powers of darkness and hell; from the cross, he draws everything in heaven and everything in earth into the cosmic embrace of his outstretched arms. Resurrection is the logical consequence of the victory of redeeming love; it is the public demonstration that the victory has been won.
The questions still remain, the ambiguities of life abide. Our hearts are still ripped apart by the injustices of life and the unexplained suffering of good people and children. But for two thousand years, those who have surrendered to Jesus have come to know the reality of his risen presence and his love in the tragedies as well as in the joys of our human story.
The Church is first and foremost that community of love which gathers around the risen Jesus, celebrating the victory of the cross, receiving his life through prayer and the sacraments, and reaching out to others in their pain with the redeeming love that we have found in him. In joining together at Mass on the Lord's Day - Sunday - the Day of Resurrection, we not only commemorate the story of Jesus - something that happened a long time ago; by prayer, faith and the sacraments we allow him to merge his story and our stories together, experiencing afresh each time the reality of death giving way to new life.