Saturday, March 31, 2007

Palm/Passion Sunday - Year C

Crosses are all around us. On church steeples, around peoples' necks, on hot cross buns, on wwjd (what would Jesus do?) bracelets.

This is not new. The cross and various other cruciforms have long been used by various cultures and religions as symbols of life. For some, the cross might depict the four corners of the earth, the four elements of creation, the four beasts in a scheme of the zodiac, the four solstices and equinoxes, the four winds that bring rain.

Ancient Egypt used the cross as symbol of eternal life. New Age religion has popularized the image of a cross-tree, with each corner representing one season of the tree's annual cycle. In all these examples, the cross is a symbol of the life of nature or community.(Gail Ramshaw, Treasures Old and New)

But try telling that to Roman-occupied Israel. To them, the cross was anything but life-giving. Too many of them had seen friends and loved ones murdered on them. Too many had encountered forests of crosses, terrible reminder to anyone who broke Roman law. From stealing, to murder, the punishment was the same. They had to keep these rebellious folks in line somehow.

That's why the crowds cheered when Jesus arrived in the Holy City. Finally, someone was coming who would stop the cruelty, throw the Romans out, and bring Israel back to its former glory, a glory not seen since King David ruled, so many years ago.

They pinned all their hopes on this poor, backwoods preacher. He could heal sick people. Maybe he could heal the political sickness that kept God's people from inheriting their destiny. He could cast out demons. Maybe he could cast out the demonic tyranny of these Roman oppressors.

But when they saw him in handcuffs, they started asking questions. When he wouldn't speak up for himself, they grumbled amongst each other. When they realized he wasn't going to be the liberator they thought he was, they turned against him and watched him die.

The cross was saved for lowest class people. The Romans knew that it was the most painful and horrific form of torture and death. The victim could hang there for days. And when the Romans got bored they crucified people unside down while their families watched in agony.

So, for many of these people, the cross was anything but life-giving.

But for some of them, the cross became so. They still didn't like the imagery of the cross; they didn't use it in their worship and art until centuries after its actual use had declined. The cross was for them still an intrument of death. If it was empty, it was waiting in deathly silence for its next victim, like an empty hangman's noose or unoccupied electric chair. If Jesus was pictured on it, the tortured body of Jesus was a reminder of his agony, not his resurrection, not our salvation. They didn't use the cross to remind them of Jesus.

But for them they knew in their bones that Jesus' story had become their story, and their story had become his. They couldn't beautify the torture of the cross away, and so they didn't picture it, but they also knew something had happened in those holy days that forever transformed their lives. And so that transformation has also come to us, as his followers, too.

When we look to the cross, we know that when we are rejected, he has borne that rejection, we know that when we've failed, he has borne that failure, we know that when we've sinned, Jesus has borne that sin. We know that when we die, he has borne our death.

We know this because his story and our story has been woven together in a strange tapesty, stories that collide in this story:

The Passion - the suffering and death- of our Lord Jesus Christ according to St. Luke....


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