What does the cross and Easter mean to you? There are SO many theories and such a variety of beliefs, it’s almost as if the cross’s impact is too poignant and powerful for words! In this year of seeing things clearly (2020), I’m choosing to meditate on and be enlivened by three main meanings Jesus gave it, which I’d sum up as Freedom, Celebration, and Unity.
My wife and I have been reading The Unvarnished Jesus: A Lenten Journey by Brian Zahnd for Lent. I mention this to not only say: “Wow! What a blessing, and challenge, this has been to us!” But also, because I got the idea for this blog from one of the readings in the book, so shout out to Brian! He points out how while Jesus frequently talks about dying, He doesn’t say much about what His death means. This makes John 12.20-33 particularly intriguing, as in the passage the Christ gives three major bullet points to what the cross means for us. Here’s some of the passage with my own emphasis:
Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip … and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” … Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. …
“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. … Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will DRAW ALL PEOPLE TO MYSELF.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. (NRSV)
Freedom, Celebration, and Unity, or, as Jesus puts it, the cross judges the world, casts out the ruler of the world, and draws the whole world to Him. Emily Dickinson has a poem titled “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant”, which I think is what the Christ often brilliantly does by speaking somewhat cryptically, packing a Truth into a story, and/or using hyperbole. For instance, I don’t believe in the passage above He’s literally telling us to hate our lives. Instead, He’s saying something related to the judgement of the world, which is intertwined with the other two purposes He gives His death here.
One of the prime stories the world feeds us about what a good life is goes something like this: “Get rich. Accumulate a big, beautiful property and home (ideally more), nice cars, and lots of fun toys. Best everyone at work and better your neighbors at home.” While there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these, they do NOT make for a good life! While our world’s system would have us believe life is a game we’re supposed to win, on the cross Jesus reveals this is a lie, because the Truth is life is a gift, and our purpose here is to learn to Love well! And, is there a more powerful expression of Love than to die for another?
The life the world’s story “encourages” (i.e. brainwashes) us to pursue is what I believe Jesus asks us to hate in order to experience the amazing life God intends for us. Following the way of the world is what leads to the rich and powerful people ruling the land, because they’re winning the game. YET, this system is neither wise nor just, but greedy for wealth and violent for power, which leads to injustice, racial and economic divides, wars, hunger, homelessness, and a host of other problems. In fact, this way of living is literally the system that killed Jesus, the best person ever! AND, beautifully it’s this very death that opens our eyes to the unhealth of living life as a game to be won, and frees us to receive the precious gift of real aliveness as, together, we learn to Love well!
Related to this is how the Christ’s crucifixion casts out the ruler of the world, the satan. While we think of “Satan” as the Devil’s name, originally it was a title for a spiritual being, meaning “the accuser”. As you may have noticed, there’s a spirit of accusation, division, and scapegoating that frequently runs the world. How often do we find commonality in mutual dislike or hatred of a person/group? How readily do we feel better about ourselves when we can pin the blame on an individual or group scapegoat?
I imagine we’ve all felt the deep shame of others “pointing their fingers” at us for our appearance, mannerisms, race, choices, beliefs, lifestyles, wealth, lack of wealth, etc. And I bet, when we get super real with ourselves, we know how icky it feels to cast out, accuse, or scapegoat others. As a Christ Lover and follower who used to be super conservative and now is not, I feel the soul-level angst of both being something of an outcast and, in my moments of unhealth, looking down on those who believe differently than me. This is why I say the cross brings Celebration, because it frees us from the devilish spirit of “us” versus “them and needing to compete and compare (finger-pointing), into the Spirit of togetherness and solidarity (handholding).
This leads me to the last purpose Jesus gives to the cross in John 12, Unity. More than anything, for me, in Christ unclothed and crucified we see the naked and unfiltered character and essence of God. Peace over violence. Forgiveness above revenge or payment. Vulnerability trumping shame. Togetherness over separateness. Love exceeding power. It’s the Divine saying, “I Love and adore you SO much, I’ll die for you, go into Death, and fill Death with my beauty and goodness so you need not fear your last breath, and we can ALL be together now and forever!” We’re ALL included. We’re EACH invited. EVERYBODY is welcomed and wanted in God’s family. Nobody better and nobody worse, but everyone UNITED in the Spirit of Christ!
Brian Zahnd puts it like this: “Finally, the cross re-founds the world. When we see Jesus lifted up on the cross, perfectly displaying the love of God by forgiving the sin of the world [violence and division], we find the place where human society is reorganized. Instead of a world organized around an axis of power enforced by violence, we discover a world organized around an axis of love expressed in forgiveness.”
Now, if you find yourself thinking, “Really? Pretty much every TV news show paints a different picture!” I hear you and agree. For the sake of real relationship and true Love, God values our freedom SO much, at any given moment we have the liberty to choose to bring and live in heaven or hell! It’s not that all reality literally lives and moves from Jesus’ Love soaked gifts of Freedom, Celebration, and Unity, yet it is a real space we can inhabit inside ourselves, cultivate with likeminded souls, and experience the world through, when we want! The more we, moment-by-moment, think, speak, and act with an acceptance and from an awareness of the blessings the cross gave, the more we experience them. At least that’s been true for me.
2,000 years ago, Jesus died to Free us from the pressure of living life as a cutthroat game of striving and struggling to best others, empower us to Celebrate no longer having to blame and point fingers, but stand together, United as equally beloved children of God! That is what’s filling me up this season and wanted to share with you. What are you meditating on this season? What’s the cross mean to you? Blessings and wellness to you this Easter!
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