When Lisa and I were in high school, she had a poster on her wall. [Insert “Awwww” or “grooooaaaan” here based on how you feel about learning that Lisa and I are highschool sweethearts.] It was a picture of an empty cross at sunset, and a caption read, “It was not the nails that held Jesus to the cross but His love for you and me.” At the time, I thought about that poster a lot like I thought about the Biblical account of the crowd ridiculing Jesus. Clearly Jesus could come down off that cross. He just chose not to.
Fast forward a few years, and that explanation seems incomplete. If Jesus could have come down from the cross, why didn’t he? Because...that was the plan? What would such a plan say about our merciful, grace-filled God?
I’m afraid full exploration of the reason for the crucifixion of Christ and all its implications is...significantly beyond the scope of both this simple column and also its author. People a lot smarter than I am have been pondering this for a long time.
Perhaps Jesus could have literally called on legions of angels to save him from his fate. Or maybe he could have made other choices that wouldn’t have led him to the cross in the first place. Either way, I believe that Jesus could have avoided the cross. But he didn’t. As holy week approaches, I find myself wondering what that means for someone like me who claims to follow Jesus.
One of the ways I define my own Christianity is that I try to act like Christ would act. Hokey as it sounds...what would Jesus do? Well, it seems Jesus would die on a cross. This does not sound like especially good news.
That brings us back to a great big WHY. I know that following Jesus may lead me to a cross (I’m hoping a metaphorical one at this point). Why did Jesus wind up on a cross? Because he modeled perfect, unconditional love. Love that honored everyone. Love that deemed everyone worthy. That can be unpopular if it threatens the status quo.
Yes, Jesus loves me. Jesus loves everyone. Following Jesus means loving everyone. Even when it’s hard. Especially when it’s hard. Even when it means, well, finding yourself on a (again, I’m hoping for metaphorical here) cross.
We already knew this, of course. Jesus said the greatest commandments were to love God, love neighbor, and love self (where God + neighbor + self = everyone). But moving through the season of Lent and closer to Jesus’ suffering reminds us of just how radical our commitment to love should be.