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The Passion of Christ and the Cross

Fr. Arnest Kharmawlong, CMF - Wed, Mar 27th 2013

The symbol of the Cross is ubiquitous in our society. It is printed on bumper stickers and tattooed on forearms; it is spray-painted on concrete walls and stitched onto denim jackets. Will this symbol continue to devolve into a mere fashion statement, a cultural icon, or a religious trademark? There is a need to reclaim the true meaning of the cross and understand that it is something much more.

The very language of the “cross” points towards the truth that the most important event in history is what happened on the cross where Jesus Christ was executed. That act is at the root of salvation and is the basis for Christian theology. “Take therefore first, as an indestructible foundation, the cross, and build upon it the other articles of the faith” (St. Cyril of Jerusalem).

The Cross is a way that Christ chose to reconcile us to God the Father, and through His sacrifice on it He made it the Tree of Life. The significance of it we speak as a reminder of reconciliation, selfless service and life-giver.

a) The Cross is a reminder of Reconciliation: The cross was always part of God’s plan for salvation, i.e., to save and to reconcile humanity to Himself. God reconciles His people by delivering us from the consequences of sin, and the means He uses to rescue us is the cross. Isaiah stated that the Messiah “poured out His soul unto death, / He was numbered with the transgressors, / He bore the sin of many, / made intercession for the transgressors” (Is 53:12). The apostle Paul confirmed this prophecy when he wrote, “For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross” (Col 1:19-20; also 2:13-15). The cross represents God’s victory over sin.

For the Cross destroyed the enmity of God towards man, brought about reconciliation, made the earth heaven, associated men with angels, pulled down the citadel of death, unstrung the force of the devil, extinguished the power of sin, delivered the world from error, brought back the truth, expelled the demons, destroyed temples, implanted virtue and grounded the churches (St John Chrysostom).

In today’s world of hatred and enmity, one needs to look up to Jesus on the Cross and be reminded of His passion to show His love even to the enemies. Faith in the reconciling power of the Cross will strengthen one to have victory over the sin of hatred and enmity.

b) The Cross is a reminder of Selfless Service: Christ stated on more than one occasion, “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it” (Mt 10:38-39; 16:24-25; Mk 8:34-35; Lk 9:23-24; 14:27).

The cross represents our duty to follow in Christ’s footsteps. There are three aspects to this. First, we must mortify our desires of the flesh in obedience to God. Second, the cross represents the standard by which we endeavour to persevere when we are being persecuted for our faith: “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross ... For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls” (Heb 12:2-3). Third, the cross reminds us of what God was willing to bear in order to communicate His love to us, and therefore it is our example of what we should be willing to undergo for others: “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (Jn 15:13).

Selfishness, greed, avarice at the cost of other’s life is what the world witnesses today. The weak and the less fortunate are oppressed and those in power of money and authority multiply injustices in their daily living affecting the lives of many in the society. The Sacrifice of Christ on the cross is a solution if one is ready to look up to him and understand His heart.

c) The Cross is a reminder for us to be the Tree of Life: The cross is symbolic of God’s promise to us of eternal life. The fruit from the tree of life is only granted to those who overcome trials and maintain their devotion to God (Rev 21:7). Yet it is by clinging to the cross that we are able to do both.

In fact, St. Basil the Great affirms that Christians will, metaphorically, become the cross/tree of life as was described in the first psalm: “Thanks to the redemption wrought by the Tree of Life, that is by the passion of the Lord, all that happens to us is eternal and eternally conscious of happiness in virtue of our future likeness to that Tree of Life. for all their doings shall prosper being wrought no longer amid shift and change nor in human weakness, for corruption will be swallowed up in incorruption, weakness in endless life, the form of earthly flesh in the form of God. This tree, then, planted and yielding its fruit in its own season, shall that happy man resemble, himself being planted in the garden, that what God has planted may abide, never to be rooted up, in the garden where all things done by God shall be guided to a prosperous issue”.

The world has witnessed many who try to understand the meaning of the Cross and live according to the inspiration that it gives. Many have become trees of life to those who are in need. The world is still crying out for more trees of life. Our firm faith in the Cross as the tree of life will bring out more dedication and commitment to those who have the goodwill to serve.

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