Thursday, April 2, 2009

Fifth Sunday of Lent, 2009

Love is the Way of the Cross

I am sure we have all visited the Catacombs. did you ever notice that among all the artwork on the walls, there are no crosses? The early Christians heard again and again how Jesus suffered and died, but they never thought of Jesus as the one who suffered and died. For them, Jesus was the one who is gloriously alive. Jesus is the one who commanded them to love as He loved. Jesus was the one who proclaimed that through love and in love we are saved and made holy and the world is made new. In the catacombs there are the bread and the cup; there is the Good Shepherd. There is the symbol of the fish. But no crosses.

As time went on the cross did become the principal symbol of the Christian faith. In the eleventh century, Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, a theologian and philosopher, wrote a book Why the God-Man? to explain why God became man. This book, and the belief represented in this book, put the cross once and for all front and center as the symbol and more than the symbol of the Christian faith. Anselm explained that sin irreparably offended the majesty of God. Sin separated man from God, and human race, since Adam, on its own, could not make up for this offense, this Lese Majeste. Only someone equal to God could repair the separation. God in his mercy became one of us to accomplish this. Anselm affirmed that God required as payment, the payment to buy us back from Satan, “to redeem us”, the sacrifice, the suffering and death of a divine person. The church adopted this explanation of why the second person of the Holy Trinity became man and how we are made right with God, namely though Jesus’ suffering and death. So, it was not merely the cross that is the symbol of the Christian faith, it is the crucifix. The decoration of the churches and painting, sculpture and eventually even the cinema reflected this teaching. We should take note that all this happened in the Church of the West. It did not happen in the Church of the East. To this day we find no crucifix in any Orthodox church and the cross in an Orthodox church always manifests Jesus triumphant in priestly or kingly robes.

“Anselm. Let’s think again.”

Let’s really pay attention to the passage from Jeremiah that we read today and to the words he puts in the mouth of God: “I will put my law within them… I will write it on their hearts… No longer shall they teach one another, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” What is this law within? It is the very indwelling of God, whose name is Love. In the letter to the Hebrews we hear “Jesus learned obedience through what he suffered”. What was the obedience he learned? He learned how far love goes, how far God who is Love goes. Listen to Jesus’ words in John’s Gospel: “What should I say – ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour… so that when I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself”. For this reason that I have come to this hour. What is the reason that brought Jesus to this hour? To reveal that the way of healing and salvation, rebirth, the way to make all things new is the way of total and unconditional love.

Here is the fundamental truth of faith. Salvation and rebirth are not really from obedience to laws on the outside. Salvation and rebirth are from obedience tot h one law, the one new commandment, on the inside, the law of Love. The law of total and unconditional Love. And the truth of the whole matter is this: the same spirit whose name is Love, who dwelled in Jesus, is the spirit who dwells in us and among us. Salvation and rebirth come from love. Not love by our own power, but love but the power of the spirit of God whose name is Love. “We adore you, o Christ, and we bless you. Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.”

Yes, but are we to believe that the all-holy and all-good God required and willed the agony and the suffering and the bloody death of his only begotten son as the price that had to be paid for the redemption of the world? Are we to believe that we are saved, and reborn, that all things are made new, through the horror of crucifixion?

“Anselm, everyone, let’s think again.”

We adore you, o Christ, and we bless you because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world, but, o Christ, you have redeemed the world not by your suffering and death, but on the cross you revealed to the world what total and unconditional love is. We adore you and we bless you because on the cross, o Christ, you draw all people to yourself, inviting us all to follow the way of the cross, which is the way of total and unconditional love.

Jesus was born not to suffer and to die as if salvation was to come though his suffering and death. Jesus was born to love as no one ever loved and in loving like that to live life to the full as no-one had ever lived life to the full. Jesus was born to reveal to the world that God’s gift to the world is the gift of Himself, the gift of His spirit, whose name is Love in whom everyone is called to love as He loved and to live as He lived.

Jesus was born to reveal how far love can go and how far love must go. This was the hour He came for, that on the cross the revelation of the gift of perfect love could be perfectly known. He was born to reveal what can happen in love, what can happen in the power of the spirit whose name is Love and who dwells in the world as the spirit of love dwelled in Him. This is the same spirit, the spirit of Love, who in the beginning swept over the face of the waters in creation, by whom all things came to be and by whom Jesus was raised from death – and by whom we are redeemed and raised to new life and by whom all things are being made new.

There is no sacred power in suffering and death. There is power in what Jesus’ suffering and death reveal, and that power is infinite. It is the power of the gift of the spirit of God who is Love, total and unconditional Love. How far should love go? On the cross Jesus reveals, “this far!” Jesus commands us to love as He loved not by our power but by the power that was in Him, the power of the spirit of God Himself. And in this power, in this loving, the forces of evil are overcome and we are redeemed. And through us the world is to be transformed into the realm of God, which is the realm of Love.

Anselm, couldn’t you see that when we focus on Jesus’ suffering and death as if these in themselves were what accomplished our salvation, we betray His cross? Couldn’t you see that when we focus on sin and weakness and fear, and not on the dignity and the power of our calling, we betray Jesus’ cross? Couldn’t you see that when we focus on the brokenness of the world rather than on what could be and should be in the power of the spirit of Love who is revealed to us, we betray Jesus’ cross?

Our faith began not in suffering and death. Jesus dies not by the will of God. Jesus was made to seem the fool by those who clung to the way things were, but those who build walls that separate people from each other. Jesus was dangerous as all those who follow Him are dangerous because they give of themselves for the sake of a new way of thinking and a new way of seeing and new priorities, and who turn things upside-down.

This is our faith, faith in our possibilities and in the world’s possibilities here and now and into forever. Possibilities in the power of love, the love perfectly revealed on the cross by which Jesus draws all people to Himself. Is the cross the sign that the work of salvation is complete? Look around. Does it look complete? Jesus has finished His part. The cross is the sign of salvation ongoing. The cross calls us to love as He loved and do our part in the salvation of the world. The cross that we see everywhere is not meant to be the symbol of suffering and death. The cross we see everywhere must inspire us, stir up the spirit within us and among us, to obey Jesus’ new, all-embracing, all powerful commandment that we love one another even as He loved us. Even as He loves us. Not as if we love by our own power, but that we love by the power of the indwelling God whose name is Love.