The Lenten season is a journey with Jesus to Jerusalem, and therefore a journey to the cross, ultimately. We see the symbol of the cross or the crucifix so often both inside and outside the walls of the church that we are at risk of either taking for granted the meaning behind it, or even worse, not allowing ourselves to take a moment to contemplate what our Lord has done upon it, what it means for the world, and for each of us personally. Being Year C in the liturgical cycle, we will encounter the perspective of St. Luke.
Early in Jesus’ ministry, he stood up in the synagogue and read from the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Lk 4:18-19). The good news is that in and through Jesus there is forgiveness of sins and freedom from the tyranny of sin, death, and the evil one. All this is ultimately realized upon the cross.
On the cross Jesus suffered a criminal’s death. Though he was innocent of any charge against him by the Jewish religious elite, and though he was without sin, Jesus went to the cross voluntarily in obedience to his (and our) Father’s, fulfilling the purpose for why he came. Jesus spoke with Moses and Elijah in his transfigured glory on Mount Tabor about his departure, or his exodus (Lk 9:28-36). In Gethsemane, Jesus conformed to the will of the Father: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (Lk 22:42).
On the cross, judgment of the devil is accomplished and the forgiveness of sins is offered to all who would receive this free gift of grace. In the wilderness the devil tempted Jesus to rule over all the kingdoms of the world, yet Jesus overcame the devil through his commitment to the Father and his kingdom before all else (Lk 4:5-8). His throne on this earth would not be one to sit upon, but one upon which he was nailed, where he prayed to the Father to forgive those who put him there and divided his garments, where also a criminal crucified alongside him found forgiveness (Lk 23:34,42-43).
Through the cross, Jesus put the world to rights (as N.T. Wright puts it), freeing it from the captivity brought about by the disobedience of Adam. If sins before Christ came were dealt with through his death and resurrection, then sins that occur after his Incarnation are dealt with as well, which means that our sins can be forgiven and we can be free from the workings of the evil one to enter into the life that God wants to give us. That life is the resurrection life, but it is only realized through the cross.
Jesus has redeemed us. He has made a way for us to be brought out of our darkness and our sin. Jesus has reconciled us to the Father that we may share in his life and being. Jesus restores us. He sanctifies us and conforms us to be like him as he is like the Father. In Christ, we become by grace what he is by nature.
What God has done for us in Christ is greater than anything we can conceive. Is there any reason we ought not to commit the entirety of ourselves, our souls and bodies to him, to his kingdom, and to his church? The church made alive by the Spirit is how the ministry of Jesus continues even to our present day. After his resurrection and before he ascended, Jesus said to the Eleven, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Lk 24:46-47). This is what all in the church are called to do as the Body of Christ. The proclamation is an invitation to all to the resurrection life. Paradoxically, and fittingly, it is a call to follow Jesus in the way of the cross. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Lk 9:23-24). When we look to the cross, let’s be transformed. Let us live the resurrection life by taking up our cross and give ourselves to Christ for his ministry in this world for the sake of his kingdom.
Fr. Clay Huffman