As we approach Good Friday the gospels challenge us to engage in pattern recognition, something at which our brains are particularly adept. We have evolved to be hard wired to see patterns and make sense of what we see. Look at this picture of a rockface in the Scottish Highlands and you should see exactly what I mean. Once you ‘get your eye in’, the arrangements of joints and fissures produce numerous “crosses”. As soon as you start looking for a shape you will usually start to see it all around you.
Look for the cross in the weatherbeaten and fractured surfaces of everyday life and for sure you will find it. The meanings signified by this pre-eminent symbol of Easter are easily discerned, because all around us there is suffering, pain, agony, cruelty, violence, injustice, loss and distress. As recounted in the gospels the death of Jesus spares no indignity to its victim and causes immense distress to those closest to him. Nor does it hide from us the blunt realities of facing the end of life. Mapping these experiences from the first century onto our twenty first century world is not difficult; the psychological patterns are clearly recognisable today.
Interpreting their meaning theologically, however, is fraught with difficulty. In what way is the death of Jesus about God being at one with suffering humanity? This simple question exposes one of the main fault lines within Christianity today, our theological equivalent of the Pacific ‘ring of fire’ (for example see Gladys Ganiel’s post about reactions to Brian McLaren’s ‘A New Kind Of Christianity’ for a snapshot of what I mean’)
Is the crucifixion and death of Jesus a transaction or a demonstration? Is it a divine transaction which balances the books and gets the human account out of the red, a sacrifice demanded by God in which Jesus takes our place and suffers our due punishment? Or is it a divine act of demonstration – in both senses of that word – in which God in Jesus demonstrates the self-giving depths to which love goes for the sake of those beloved by God and demonstrates against all the forces of injustice which deny life to those same beloved? The notion of demonstration seems entirely consistent with the Kingdom lifestyle, actions and teaching of Jesus. His death was the predictable outcome of his revolutionary non-violent stance against the forces of oppression, exploitation, inequality and cruelty of his time, as one who stood firmly within the radical socio-salvific teaching and tradition of the Hebrew prophets.
It is this theological pattern which is so instantly recognisable today too. All around us the cross is evident as people take up its challenge and follow in the footsteps of Jesus to confront all that is wrong. God’s passionate love for this beloved world is being demonstrated by people of courage right across the globe. The resurrection of Jesus demonstrates that the power of love is ultimate and will not be denied. Look carefully and the cross can be found everywhere.