Saturday, April 16, 2011
The Cross Is Not Pretty
We have a great tendency to clean up the cross and turn it from an instrument of death into a work of art -- a thing of beauty. It is not a good thing to do. The cross was never meant to be a thing of beauty. It was created to be an instrument of death and God chose to use it as the place where His only Son would meet His death -- with the surprise that this death would end death's reign and have the power to give us life! That surely transforms the cross but it does not make it beautiful. There is no beauty in such deep suffering that the voice cries out "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani!" The cross is not pretty but we continue to behold it and even raise it up because on it the salvation of the world was accomplished -- freely, without input or cost from us, and graciously imparted to unworthy and undeserving sinners.
Tomorrow it all begins. Holy Week. The palms and hosannas turn into the cross and cries of "crucify." The events take up perhaps a third of all the Gospels and there is nothing pretty about what takes place. Unlike the comforting and consoling images of Jesus carrying the lamb in His arms, we meet bloody sweat and betrayal, mocking homage and a kangaroo court, pressing crowds and a weak Roman governor, conspiring priests and an expedient death, a crown of thorns and a blood stained robe, sour drugged wine and heaving breaths, gracious words and whispered end, blood and water, a centurion's unlikely confession and a mother's grieving loss, a death like any other death and yet a death like none other... It is a week of images not pretty but profound.
We have an urge to clean it up, explain it away, and then put it away so that we can enjoy Easter without remembering Good Friday. But it will not be... As often as you eat of this bread and drink of this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes.... It is death that we have come to remember, death we have come to honor, and death that we proclaim. Easter does not erase this terrible death or turn it into something beautiful but it points us to what was accomplished by this death that transfers forgiveness, life, and salvation to us -- teaching us to sing again the "Alleluia" for a time put aside that we might sing it again.
Beauty is not the purpose of the cross but redemption. Dirty, messy, wounded, and dying sinners required a God who got dirty with them, who entered their mess, who was wounded for their transgressions, and suffered all -- even death -- for their sins and to purchase their redemption. The cross is many things but pretty is not one of them. As we prepare to walk the final footsteps of our Lenten journey, let us not try to whitewash where the journey goes or recast the cross into a piece of art. It's beauty lies not in what it is, but in who was crucified there and what His suffering and death has won for us and for our salvation.
Soli Deo Gloria