It's a symbol of love, of forgiveness, of salvation.
It's a vision of violence, of blood, of death.
It's a trinket dangling from a rear-view mirror, an ornament to dress up an outfit.
It's a centerpiece in a house of worship.
It's a gift. It's an offense.
It's a reminder, in the words of Tim Keller, that we are "more wretched than we ever imagined, and more loved than we ever dared hope."
I wrote last week about why we hate the cross. Essentially, we don't like the idea that we're sinners who need saving. We don't like being "wretched," or lost, or needy. I've been a Christian for decades and I still squirm at the idea that my sin (and Sin in general) is so bad it required Jesus' death. And yet if we are indeed wretched, lost, and needy, and God has reached out to us, found us, forgiven us, saved us, then the cross is also wonderfully good news. The cross is a symbol of our depravity, and yet it is also a symbol of our unbelievable value in the eyes of a loving God. The cross serves as a symbol of a spiritual reality–that through Christ God is making the world right and undoing the impact of sin in both our individual lives and on a cosmic level. For us as individuals, this undoing begins as we recognize our need for forgiveness and then receive it. And yet receiving forgiveness isn't the end. It's only the beginning.
Imagine our relationship with God as a bridge over a river. When that relationship was broken, we couldn't cross the river without drowning. In Christ, the relationship was repaired–God rebuilt the bridge, so to speak. And yet just because the bridge is there doesn't mean we experience that restored relationship. The cross effects forgiveness of sins. And that's great news. But the even better news is that now, because sin doesn't get in the way of knowing God–now we can live with God. Now we can know God and be known by God. Now we can have freedom and confidence and hope. Now we can participate in God's work of healing and restoring work in our own lives and in the world around us.
I've spent this Lent trying to reflect upon the cross. I don't understand it any better than I did six weeks ago. But I do understand that it is through the cross that I can know and be known by God. It is through the cross that we can be healed, redeemed, forgiven. And for that, I am grateful.