September 14, 2014
EXALTATION OF THE CROSS
God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. – John 3: 17
It was the start of a holiday weekend, & the service station was crowded. Finally, an attendant hustled up to the local priest who had been waiting in line for some time. “I’m sorry about the delay Father,” he apologized, but it seems like everybody waits until the last minute to get ready for a trip which they knew they were taking all along.” The priest smiled & said, “I know what you mean. I’ve got the same problem in my business.”
When we think or talk of salvation, it usually leaves us cold. We can read all the latest theologies of salvation, discuss it in abstract terms, & debate various ideas of salvation & still remain unmoved. The reason is that we treat salvation as a concept – we intellectualize it. It takes more than a head-trip to put real meaning behind the word.
Imagine, for a moment, the Israelites in the desert, beset by a plague of serpents. Modern horror movies have nothing over the Bible – only in the movies, just when things seem hopeless, the hero finds some unexpected way to deliver everyone from the fiends that threaten them. The Bible is not so unrealistic. It understands that humans cannot deliver themselves by their own devices. Only God can do such a thing.
We have a multitude of serpents threatening us today – from domestic violence, divorce, abortion, drug abuse & the crimes committed to sustain a habit, to institutional violence such as wars & terrorism, & real plagues such as AIDS & Ebola. The list is endless, but long enough to disabuse us of the notion of progress when it comes to the human animal.
What the Israelites experienced in the desert must have been similar to what those first Christians felt when they came to realize that the long nightmare of human depravity was over – not that it was ended, but that God had shown them a way out when all seemed hopeless. The symbol of that deliverance was & is the Cross. Suddenly they felt unburdened, liberated from things in life that were pinning them down, overwhelmed by a kind of joy that cannot be contained. They felt they had to let it spill over into the world & into the lives of others because it was the best thing that had ever happened to them.
A man in his 40’s who had undergone major heart surgery expressed gratitude to a nurse who had a great deal of experience caring for heart patients. She warned him against what she described as, “breaking your heart chasing rainbows that can’t be caught, & would be worthless even if they could be.”
Left to their own devices, humans chase worthless rainbows. The Cross is no rainbow: it doesn’t make death disappear, but it can free us from the paralyzing fear that casts its shadow over all of us. The Good News is that we don’t have to wait until the last minute to prepare for a trip we know we all have to make. The joy can begin right now, if we can just put Christ at the center of our lives. AMEN!