In our current message series called Common Sense, we’re examining why it makes sense to believe the teachings of Jesus. The impact he had on the collective human conscience and the inherent inclusivity of his message are two important reasons to believe. But, ironically, the truth of what he taught is most powerfully communicated through the suffering and death he endured on the cross.
When I was twenty-four years old, I made a retreat at a Trappist monastery on the edge of metropolitan Atlanta. Years earlier, I had visited with my sixth grade class. Now, as a new Catholic, this serene place of peace held far more spiritual meaning. As I was wandering the grounds late one afternoon, I came across an enormous crucifix on the shore of a tranquil lake. I stared at the lifeless corpse hanging on the cross and began to weep. The great love with which Christ must have had for us in order to endure the horrors of crucifixion overwhelmed my emotions.
As Tom Holland writes in his new book, Dominion, “no death was more excruciating, more contemptible, than crucifixion. . . . Everything about the practice of nailing a man to a cross—a ‘crux’—was repellent” (Basic Books 2019, 2-3). So disturbing was the idea that the Son of God could be tortured like a common slave that his method of death was not even portrayed in visual form until centuries later.
By the middle ages, however, the cross would come to humble even the mightiest monarch. “Men and women, when they looked upon an image of their Lord fixed to the cross, upon the nails smashed through the tendons and bone of his feet, upon the arms stretched as tightly as to appear torn from their sockets, upon the slump of his thorn-crowned head onto his chest, did not feel contempt, but rather compassion, and pity, and fear” (Holland 9). His teachings of universal love, turning the other cheek, and praying for one’s enemies became laden with moral weight in the convincing light of his ghastly crucifixion.
The reality of the cross, if given half a chance, will speak even in the most cynical of hearts today. Join us this Sunday for the third installment of our message series for more on this common-sense reason to believe in the teachings of Christ. As the lyrics of a popular contemporary Christian song by Matt Maher powerfully convey:
The price of love is paid in full, his blood poured out, how beautiful.
Take all the breath in my lungs, you’ll hear the rocks crying glory to God.
Take everything that I’ve got, and you'll see two empty hands lifted up.
You may silence me but the cross forever speaks.
—Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Father Roger Gustafson