Darkness cross

“From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ […] Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last.” (Matt 27:45-50)

At the cross, humanity demonstrated its supreme reliance on violent power as the ultimate solution to every problem. The world’s most sophisticated religion combined with its most highly developed civilisation, and together they conspired to do the unthinkable: murder God incarnate.

The event of the cross proved two things beyond the slightest doubt. First, it proved that even the most enlightened and pious human societies are quite willing to soak themselves in innocent blood in order to preserve social cohesion. And second, it proved that God is not like us, and is not as we thought he was. Jesus’ submission to the cross demonstrated once and for all that God will go to any lengths – including his own death – to avoid exercising violent power. German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it this way: “God allowed himself to be edged out of the world and onto the cross.”

Make no mistake: before it was anything else, the cross event was a catastrophe, a calamity, a cataclysm. And yet, beneath its appalling ugliness, it was also a thing of great and resplendent beauty. This is the paradox of the cross: as humanity displayed the depths of its depravity by sacrificing God himself, God submitted to humanity’s bloody demands and, in so doing, revealed with utmost clarity the blazing white heart of love that beats at the centre of all that is.

Properly understood, the cross defeats every notion of a God of supreme might and power. To quote Bonhoeffer again, “God is weak and powerless in the world, and that is exactly the way, the only way, in which he can be with us and help us.”

So as we contemplate this cross and its dying God, perhaps the most fitting response we can make is to humbly kneel on the bloodstained ground and realise again all that needs to die in us: our pride, our arrogance, our obsession with winning, our love affair with violence in its manifold forms, and most of all our incessant victim-making and scapegoating. If we can see these things in ourselves for what they are, perhaps we can also glimpse the one thing that can save us: the all-embracing, self-giving, other-centred love that is the very heartbeat of God.

I leave you with Graham Kendrick’s song Crucified Man.

I have placed all my hope in a crucified man
In the wounds in his side, his feet and his hands
I have traded my pride for a share in his shame
And the glory that one-day will burst from his pain

I’ve abandoned my trust in the wise and the proud
For this fragile, mysterious weakness of God
And I dare to believe in his scandalous claim
That his blood cleanses sin for who ever
Will call on his name
Live or die here I stand
I’ve placed my hope in a crucified man

I believe as they beat on his beautiful face
He turned a torturer’s chair to an altar of grace
Where the worst we can do met the best that God does
Where unspeakable hate met the gaze
Of unstoppable love
At the crux of it all there he hangs
I’ve placed my hope in a crucified….

Man of sorrows man of grief
Will he stay beyond belief?

When the purest and best took the force of our curse
Death’s victory armada juddered into reverse…
And either we bow or we stumble and fall
For the wisdom of a suffering God
Has made fools of us all
I gladly admit that I am
But I’ve placed my hope in a crucified …

Man of sorrows man of grief
Will he stay beyond belief?

I have buried my life in the cold earth with him
Like a seed in the winter, I wait for the spring
From that garden of tombs Eden rises again
And Paradise blooms from his body
And never will end
He’ll finish all he began
Creation hopes in a crucified man

When I stand at the judgement
I have no other plan
I’ve placed my hope in a crucified man

Like the thief nailed beside him
I have no other plan
I’ve placed my hope in a crucified man

Graham Kendrick
Copyright © 2006 Make Way Music
www.grahamkendrick.co.uk

[Bonhoeffer quotes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers From Prison (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1953), pp. 219-20]

[ Image: Christopher Brown ]