March 16, 2008
PALM SUNDAY (A)
Let him be crucified! – Mt. 27: 22
Let’s conduct a thought experiment. You’ve met some seemingly nice people who’ve invited you to worship with them on Sunday. You’ve never heard of their religion; it is something entirely new & different. On the other hand you feel a bit honored that they want to share their faith with you. So, perhaps as much out of curiosity as out of friendship, you go.
Imagine your surprise as you enter the front door, peer into the sanctuary & see something that utterly shocks you. The sanctuary is bare except for an electric chair, placed dead center! You feel like turning around & running for your life. Wondering what you have gotten yourself into, you feel like excusing yourself. What kind of strange cult is this to have such a bizarre item in their place of worship?
You hesitate between disgust & interest, between fear & curiosity. You find yourself torn because these people, along with everyone else present, don’t seem weird at all. In fact, they seem to be a loving people because they show a great deal of love & concern for each other. You are torn, but you decide to stay.
Your host picks up a small pamphlet that explains the group’s beliefs. You read that at the center of their faith & worship is a man who was put to death in an electric chair through the machinations of a political & social system that saw this man as a threat to their lives of privilege & power. Subsequently, these followers have discovered that when they gather together, this man is present in spirit, pouring out his love & his grace into their lives. It slowly begins to dawn on you that to them the electric chair – a horrifying symbol of the state’s power over life & death, a symbol of disgrace & condemnation & fear – has been transformed for these people into something entirely different from its common meaning.
You are baffled: how can something so monstrous represent the very power & wisdom of God to these people? Instead of a rich & famous lifestyle, instead of yachts & villas, perks & private jets, sleek automobiles & perfectly toned bodies, an electric chair is a symbol for life’s meaning? It’s beyond all explanation.
This is exactly what the early Christians had to deal with, for the cross was the electric chair of their time. It was a hated, disgraceful, shameful & feared symbol of death. How did it become a symbol of revelation, redemption & inspiration for them? We’ve come to take the cross so much for granted that we’ve lost sight of its shock value.
The cross is a powerful sign that the world has got it all backwards. Jesus does not appear to us on TV or arrive in a shiny new Mercedes, but in the most outlandish & scandalous way. He comes in sacrifice & self-giving & total love. He accepts the cross to show us how far He will go for us, & most importantly, where He expects us to follow.
We must come to terms with the reality that the cross is neither a pendant nor a decoration. It is the sign of a radical way of living that demands making choices. When we make the sign of the cross, we state that we are willing to die to self & to be countercultural. AMEN!