Confessing Christ Bloggers
Sep 20

Written by: Richard L. Floyd
9/20/2008 9:37 AM

3. The cross models forgiveness. From the cross Jesus prays, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do,” and in doing so embodies the loving mercy of God. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has written, “Without that (the cross of Jesus), we cannot begin to understand the forgiveness of sins. Jesus crucified is God crucified, so we believe. Jesus is the total and final embodiment in history of God’s loving mercy; and so this cross is a unique, terrible, extreme act of violence—a summary of all sin. It represents the human rejection of love. And not even that can destroy God: with the wounds of the cross still disfiguring his body, he returns out of hell to his disciples and wishes them peace.” (Jersak, p 216.)

This radical forgiveness is the only power that can break the cycles of revenge and retribution that fuel so much of our world’s violence. One of the most powerful moments of Christian witness in my lifetime was when Pope John Paul the Second forgave the man who had shot him, Mehmet Ali Agca. The Pope was shot and seriously wounded in 1981. In 1983 he visited his assailant in prison and spoke privately with him for about 20 minutes. He later said, “What we talked about will have to remain a secret between him and me. I spoke to him as a brother whom I have pardoned and who has my complete trust.”

How ironic it seems to me that the word of the cross is being accused of causing violence, when its message judges and condemns violence. Graham Toulmin has written, “The word of the cross is unique in the modern or postmodern world, as a discourse or metanarrative unlike any other. It will not allow Christians to impose their faith forcibly on others, instead waiting patiently for its truth to be recognized, suffering misunderstanding and disdain before it will retaliate or compel. It is a metanarrative, a Truth with a capital "T/' but a humble, patient one. In a world justifiably nervous that absolute truths are inherently violent and oppressive, a cross-centered Christianity offers an absolute Truth which by its very nature denies coercion as a way to assert itself. Instead, it offers and forms a community dedicated to learning ways of love for enemies, forgiveness and hospitality to the "other" which promises a way forward for a fragmented and frightened world. " (Toulmin)

4. The cross is all about God’s love. When I began I mentioned the hymn “What wondrous love is this?” That rhetorical question gets to the heart of the matter. Pope Benedict XVI first encyclical is called God is Love, which comes from 1 John 4:8. In it the Pope describes God’s love as an active love. He writes: “When Jesus speaks in his parables of the shepherd who goes after the lost sheep, of the woman who looks for the lost coin, of the father who goes to meet and embrace his prodigal son, these are no mere words: they constitute an explanation of his very being and activity. His death on the Cross is the culmination of that turning of God against himself in which he gives himself in order to raise man up and save him. This is love in its most radical form.”

When we look at the passages in Scripture that speak of God’s love, they more often than not reference the cross as the chief evidence. For example, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Or Romans 5:8: “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Or Romans 8:31, 32: “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

And not just in Scripture, but in our traditions, too, we see a cross-centered understanding of God’s love. So the Heidelberg Catechisms beloved first question, “What is your only comfort in life and death?” is answered thus: “That I belong-- body and soul, in life and in death—not to myself, but to my faithful Savior, who at the cost of his own blood has fully paid for all my sins…so that everything must fit his purpose for my salvation… he also assures me of eternal life….”

“What wondrous love is this?” Far from being the cause of violence the word of the cross is God’s love at work, and only that love offers healing and wholeness to our broken world.

It is true that the word of the cross is not a word everyone will hear. As Paul wrote the Corinthians: “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God . . . For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” (1 Cor. 1:23ff)

Copyright ©2008 Richard Floyd

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