Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday: Not giving up on the cross

The title of my own post makes me cringe a little bit.

I've thought too much about this not to. The words pop into my head while I sing the Good Friday hymns and look at the black-shroud draped cross: "Substitutionary atonement. Wrath of God. Divine child abuse."

I've heard too many stories. Pastors counseling women being abused by their husbands that the Christ-like thing is just to accept that this is their lot in life, that this is their "cross to bear." People with power insisting that it is people without power who must take up the cross, who must suffer. People for whom just being in a sanctuary with a cross makes them uncomfortable; churches choosing not to have a cross up front because it scares people away.

There are all sorts of problems with the cross. But I'm not giving up on it. 

Because I believe in a God who steps into situations of suffering, of violence, and of pain. Who takes a stance of nonviolence in the face even of devastating violence. Whose human experience includes abandonment and despair. A vulnerable God. A God who unmasks unjust systems and structures. 

I believe in a God who loves you so much, so much, that not even death--the death of God!--can scare God off. So if death can't scare God off, how can mistakes? How can failures? How can depression? How can hopelessness? How can doubt?

At one of today's Good Friday services (I have 3, so the cross is on my mind), I got to read a passage from Romans 8, and it flowed out of me like a sermon. Sometimes Paul knows just what to say: "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor death, nor anything else in all , will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

I am not giving up on the cross because, without understanding it, I don't think the following story makes any sense:

In 1996, in civil war ridden Algeria, 7 Trappist monks were kidnapped from their monastery by members of the Armed Islamic Group and were killed. One of the monks, knowing that violence was growing inevitable, wrote a letter to be discovered after his death. It read, in part:

 "I have lived long enough to know that I, too, am an accomplice of the evil that seems to prevail in the world around, even that which might lash out blindly at me. If the moment comes, I would hope to have the presence of mind, and the time, to ask for God’s pardon and for that of my fellowman, and, at the same time, to pardon in all sincerity him who would attack me....And to you, too, my friend of the last moment, who will not know what you are doing. Yes, for you, too, I wish this thank-you, this “A-Dieu,” whose image is in you also, that we may meet in heaven, like happy thieves, if it pleases God, our common Father."

They stayed, knowing this would come to pass, simply because the Algerian community in which they had lived and worked could not pack up and leave. They stayed. And they prepared to forgive.

There are all sorts of problems with cross theology. But I need it to challenge me into further vulnerability, into places of pain. Into community with the rest of the happy thieves.

This Good Friday, I'm not giving up on the cross.

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