Thursday, December 19, 2019
Empty cross. . . empty manger?
We are determined to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified. This is the preaching and teaching of the Church of the Augsburg Confession. We do not wish sin away or work ourselves out of its hole but acknowledge that sin is a big deal and the only thing that can overcome our sin is the bigger deal of Christ's blood shed, His agony and suffering upon the cross, and His death. This is what the crucifix zeros in on and what makes it so uncomfortable. It is not about art or about a denial or minimizing of the resurrection. It is about our continued temptation to minimize sin or to forget what it cost Jesus to set us free from its power and its destiny of death.
Sometimes we are reminded of Romans 4:25: [Christ] who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. But the translations have blurred what St. Paul is saying. The resurrection does not accomplish our justification. That happened upon the cross. What St. Paul is saying is slightly different that we usually read it. He was delivered up to the cross on account of our our sins. The cross and its pain were required by sin to accomplish our justification. Christ was raised on account of our justification, that is, to proclaim the justification complete and that His suffering and death upon the cross had paid in full and satisfied completely all that was required for that justification. His resurrection proclaims it done. In this way the resurrection justifies or vindicates Jesus who promised that on the third day He would rise. He was raised so that we might see what His sufferings have accomplished and even now He lives to intercede with His blood on behalf of sinners.
The empty cross is visual testimony of the truth to H. Richard Niebuhr's statement of our rose colored glasses about sin and about God's wrath: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.” Our problem is not with the portrayal of Christ in His suffering but with the idea that He needed to suffer for us or that our sins were so great that they could not be fixed with a little tinkering rather than the radical of His innocent suffering and death for each of us guilty.
Christmas offers us no problem in this regard. In fact, we cannot but see the baby still in the manger
because it pulls at our heart strings and touches our tears with sentiment. Yet the reason the baby is in the manger is not because the optics are nice but because the Incarnation makes possible the Justification. We have real problems with the Incarnation of Our Lord and yet we can set them aside because we like the visual imagery of the baby. But the shock and scandal of God in the womb of the Blessed Virgin, delivered amid the pain of her cries, and crying out as any child born of woman is blunted by this sentiment. Sort of like the way Lutherans who object to the word mass used to refer to the Divine Service still refer to the day as Christmass. We have so distanced one from the other that we do not notice. This you cannot do with the figure of Christ upon the cross, clearly in the agony of suffering and the throws of death!