The joy and terror of the cross


The joy and terror of the cross

Sept. 14 is the day we foolishly celebrate a device of terror. Yes, it’s Holy Cross Day.

Before we celebrate, I’ll confess that I didn’t know this day existed before I was asked to write about it. If Jesus would have told me along with Peter about needing to suffer on the cross to save all of humanity, I would have told him that it’s a great metaphor, but there are plenty of better ways to spend his time (i.e., healing the sick, feeding the poor, ending war, teaching us how to be less discriminatory and really love all our neighbors, etc.).

But you don’t have to be a theologian to see that God is bigger than I am and that I cannot go back in time. I’ve learned Job’s lesson and remember that regardless of how the story plays out, God gets to be right at the end of every argument, if only because it’s God’s world and we are God’s creation.

I had hoped that making all these caveats before I began writing about the cross would somehow ease my discomfort. It hasn’t.

Martin Luther wrote about pastors like me, who all too often err on the side of grace in our speaking and our preaching. He said that the discomfort of the cross is the true center of our faith and to ignore this eternally agitating fact would be to lie.

My first reaction to Luther is to tell him that his obsession with the cross, suffering and sinfulness is a bit depressing, not good for contemporary evangelism and kept his faith constipated for years. But, again, Luther’s place in the history of Christianity is way bigger and influential than mine.

And even though I don't want to admit it, Luther is right. The terrifying cross, whether I like it or not, is at the center of my salvation. Thankfully, we don't have to like it to benefit from it!

The joy of the cross is that our God loves us and our world enough to eternally agitate us. Perhaps that agitation will compel us to complete all those other tasks Jesus didn't get around to (i.e., healing the sick, feeding the poor, ending war, teaching us how to be less discriminatory and really love all our neighbors, etc.).

Last week, when my son, Graham, was born, I was reminded once again how deep love can come in the midst of unending agitation. It takes a lot of pain, trauma and pushing to bring new life into the world. Other times it takes even more traumatic interventions. Perhaps there is an easier way to birth a baby into the world, but the process is so miraculously beautiful. Despite the bloody agony that it is, we celebrate it with songs, cake and candles every year after.

In the Greek that the Gospels were written in, the word "life" also simultaneously meant Spirit and soul. How much more are the birth pangs God endures for our life/Spirit/souls? How can you keep from singing, enjoying cake and lighting candles?

If you still don't feel like celebrating Holy Cross Day, then all is as it should be. May the day agitate you into remembering that God loves you, suffered in agonizing ways so that no further sacrifices would ever be needed and has forever placed a no-occupancy sign on the cross so that we need not harm ourselves or others in God's name.


Megan Rohrer is an ELCA pastor and the executive director of Welcome -- a communal response to poverty. She and her family recently moved from San Francisco to Rochester, Minn.

You might also want to read:

The Way of the Cross
Clutching the cross
Sustaining hope at the foot of the cross

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