“He hurt!” Three-year-old Will stared at the print of the crucifixion by Matthias Grünewald I had purchased for my office. “That’s Jesus,” I said. As Will struggled to understand, his face contorted like the fingers in the painting. Jesus is the one who “loves Will,” who “loves everybody!” Who is this man who hurts? Will’s sullen mouth gave voice to the inevitable confession – “Jesus…hurt.”
The cross remains an enduring symbol of God’s love because it communicates, even to a toddler, that God’s love is not sanitized. The love poured out for us in Christ is dirty, naked, bruised, ripped open, and bloodied. It is a love that sympathizes with us in our weakness because it is a love that willingly endured our common weakness – death. God’s love hurts for us and with us.
The cross in our sanctuary is our reminder of this love that hurts. It inoculates us against the false perception that the ultimate cause of our hurt is God. When we look at the cross, we see the reflection of the cause – “for the wages of sin is death.” The cross reminds us that hurt and death were not original to God’s “very good” creation.
Hurt and death are our creations. Our sin is their crooked mold; our rebellion, their forge. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners,” Jesus Christ crushed the mold with his broken body and doused the flames with his blood. The cross of Christ reminds us that the spear we created to pierce God’s side, God has beaten into a pruning hook. The cross reminds us that with his tears, Christ wipes away every tear; with his death, Christ makes death no more.
“For the former things have passed away.” This love that hurts transforms our worship and our lives. The cross in our sanctuary stands in judgment over the false belief that our Sunday morning hour is simply about trying to “do better.” It mocks our vain attempt to say that our worship corresponds to any worldly wisdom. It suffocates our aspirations of power and might; it proclaims that God’s “power is made perfect in weakness.”
We comprehend that weakness in understanding that when Christ says, “Follow me,” he is leading us to the cross. And when Christ says, “take up your cross,” he does not bid us to come as spectator. We come as participants. Every Sunday, the cross in our sanctuary proclaims the promise of our baptism, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”
The way of the cross – despite its original intention – is the way toward life. When I showed Will the print of Grünewald’s resurrection, Will completed his confession: “Now Jesus feel much better!” The cross in our sanctuary proclaims this “much better” hope to us each Sunday: “For those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” Amen.