Lenten Meditations from the Pastoral Concerns Dept – Day 39 Good Friday Message “THE CROSS: A NEW VISION OF GOD, FOR LIFE IN ALL ITS FULNESS”
[The Pastoral Concerns Department of the Church of South India brings out devotions for the 40 Lenten Days in 2019 beginning from the Ash Wednesday. A group of CSI Presbyters from the five states of South India prepared these devotions and published on this official website of the CSI Synod, Official Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/csisynodcommunication/ and the official WhatsApp Broadcast from the number +91 9840577404. You can read/download the English version of the devotion here. The writer of the devotion presents the same in a video on the day. Watch here Rev. Dr. D. Rathnakara Sadananda, General Secretary, CSI Synod gives a meditation “THE CROSS: A NEW VISION OF GOD, FOR LIFE IN ALL ITS FULNESS”
Lenten Meditations- Day 39 Good Friday Message (for 19th April 2019)
“THE CROSS: A NEW VISION OF GOD, FOR LIFE IN ALL ITS FULNESS”
Selected Text: 1 Cor. 1:18,23
“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians … but we proclaim Christ crucified.” (1 Cor. 1:18,23)
The Cross is the ultimate and unique symbol of our faith. We are the people under the shadow of the Cross. We are the ones chosen to tread the path of the Cross. Taking up the Cross and following the crucified is discipleship. But the Cross has become, or rather we have converted the cross into an ornament. The meaning and significance of the Cross are getting diluted in our teaching and life. At times we think and interpret that the pain, suffering and the problems we face are, in fact, the Cross. Maybe true, sometimes. However, we need to note that the problems we face, the pain and suffering that we often invite upon ourselves because of our own wrong doing, is not the Cross. Instead we encounter the Cross when we walk the Lord’s way, the path of education, empowerment, resistance, reconciliation, healing, justice and peace. The Cross is the goal of our life. As we are given grace to once again enter the Lenten season, we are invited to look intently on the Cross and the Crucified One and to understand the meaning, significance and relevance of the Cross in our daily life.
Cross is the vision of life in all its fulness
Paul informs us that some consider the message of the Cross as foolishness, weakness, shame and a scandalous, stumbling block, but for those who believe in Jesus, the Cross is God’s wisdom, God’s power and strength. It is the revelation of God’s glory and continues to be the hope of salvation. Therefore, as we proclaim the Christ crucified, we are invited to be part of a new vision for life.
The Cross teaches us the innate and intrinsic value of relationships. The Cross questions and critiques our relations with God, with all God’s people and with God’s world. Jesus’ words from the Cross, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34), “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43) call us to re-think, re-define and re-claim our relationships. The Cross expresses an unquenchable thrust toward bridging, re-molding and building relationships. It calls us to enter into deeper, meaningful and strong relationships that may re-create the creational harmony. It is not a simple call to right relationship with nice, good people and the environment; the Cross calls us to build bridges of reconciliation and enter into right relationships with the world that is revolts against, rejects and denies all relations. The Cross is a challenge to build bridges with those who turn faces away, those who hate to the core and conspire to exclude, eliminate and destroy, those who spit and mock, those who renounce, damn and reprove. The Cross is a call and challenge to re-interpret, re-invent, re-live life-affirming relationships amid violent death forces that threaten to destroy and kill.
The Cross challenges us to be faithful and diligent in all the responsibilities entrusted to us: “Woman, here is your son.” “Here is your mother.” (John 19:26-27). The Cross does not allow us to run away from our responsibilities, it is not a path of escapism. The burden of family responsibility weighed heavily upon him. People always teased him that he was a hermit with no sense of family responsibility. They even ridiculed him saying that he had lost his mind. And when he joined the tax collectors and those they considered sinners, he was called a glutton. Allegations and accusations were heaped on him; he was branded and became a victim of profiling. Yet, the Cross is a call to take the accusations and allegations head-on instead of finding an escape route and running away. The Cross calls us to take family relationships and responsibilities seriously, and to discharge our duties towards family with faithful diligence. Many a time varied problems and difficulties, pain and sufferings become an excuse to shrug off or to get away from and to neglect our responsibilities. The Cross is a call to be faithfully committed and diligently covenanted to our family responsibilities even amid life’s bitter challenges that threaten to sap our energy and hope.
The Cross educates and empowers us to understand life’s goal. “It is finished (John 19:30). Father, I commend my Spirit into your hands” (Lk. 23:46). Jesus expresses his eagerness to reach his life’s goal. “Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us” (2 Tim 1:14). Jesus moved to fulfil and complete the mission entrusted to him. The Cross did not deter him from bringing to fullness the redemption of the whole world. He had to go through a terrible struggle to the extent of praying with all earnestness and asking “My Father if it is possible, let this cup pass from me. Yet not what I want, but what you want”. And he had the humble submission in sincerely bringing his struggle before his Father. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. If this cannot pass, unless I drink it, your will be done (Matt 26:39-42).
The Cross is a call to move towards life’s goal with single-minded determination and fullest commitment and dedication. It is a call to take each step steadily towards the goal. Because Jesus walked steadfastly towards the goal, he had to face the Cross. Whoever lives out the faith commitment and covenantal obligations without a compromise and moves with single-minded dedication will have to face the Cross. It was not easy; there were people who mocked at him, accused him, and deserted him and fled. There were also people who wept for him. Yet there were people who stood in silence and unmoved as spectators. Moving towards the goal of life amid all these people and circumstances is difficult; yet amid such defeating circumstances, the Cross calls us to understand, interpret, express, and fulfil life’s goal.
During times when the institution of marriage is being challenged; when relationships in multi-cultural and multi-religious neighbourhoods and communities suffer as faith related sentiments polarise, exploiting lack of genuine trust and commitment; when the relationships to the environ becomes crucial for the very survival of the planet; when emerging cultural values tempt people to become individualistic and conveniently forget the responsibility towards the common good and commitment for sharing and celebrating life together, the Cross beckons us for a critical re-think of values and goals.
In teaching and empowering people to live out intrinsically-woven relationships, in educating and equipping people to discharge responsibilities diligently with committed faithfulness and in enabling and inspiring people to walk steadfastly towards the goal of life, the Cross gives a new vision of life in all its fullness.
Cross is the vision of God
The Cross is often a sign of forsakenness, abandonment, wretchedness, exclusion and elimination. Often, we, in our hopelessness, amid suffering, pain, sorrow and doubt, question: Has God forsaken us? If God were there, how could this happen? Even Jesus cried on the cross, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46). On the Cross, God forsakenness was a real experience for Jesus. When the dark clouds of terrible abandonment cover and encircle, the Cross is considered foolish and scandalous by many. But exactly at that point, the Cross becomes the altar of God’s vision, the sacred moment of the revelation of God’s wisdom, power and strength. We need to listen intently to the prayers of Jesus on the Cross - Father, my God, my God - all proclaim the surety of the real presence of God. God is with us each and every moment. Especially when we pass through the valley of darkness, pain, sorrow, suffering and distress, God walks with us very closely, as a faithful companion. Sometimes we are so overwhelmed that though we know the ideal, we cannot reach it, though we know the right, we cannot do it, though we do recognise our duty, we cannot perform it, though we know the truth, we cannot reach it, though we know the path, we cannot walk through it, though help is at hand we cannot recognise it, though God accompanies us, we cannot see and comprehend.
In the narrative of Abraham preparing to sacrifice his son Isaac, in obedience to the word of the Lord, a perplexed father is confronted by the question, “Father! The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (Genesis 22:7). When Abraham built an altar and laid the wood in order, he bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. When he was ready to give his son in sacrifice, he experienced Jehovah Jireh - the Lord will provide. When he gave, he did see and find. He not only understood the secret of being provided for, but that those who hold on to life, will lose it, those who lose it will find it. The Cross is the place and the space wherein we are given grace to behold God’s wisdom, power and authority, the self-revelation of God in that which is despised, stricken, afflicted, oppressed and slaughtered.
The victims of the empire, trafficked and exploited women and children who cannot even cry and narrate, bonded laborers who do not dare to dream, the victims of abuse and violence who, in their silence speak volumes, the migrants and the refugees who are told that they are no people, the victims of war and terror who are terrified and maimed, the abandoned elderly who have lost all perspective in life, all in their own way help us to experience the abandonment and dereliction of Jesus on the Cross and God’s abiding presence and accompaniment even in distress and absolute pain. We hear simultaneously God’s liberating command: “Let my people go!” as well as his agony: “Where will my people go?”
The Cross assures us that though we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh (II Cor 4:8-12). In the Cross, we have the experience of the embrace of God’s love, we are inspired by the soft, comforting and consoling touch of God. In the Cross, we are safe in the palm of God’s hands, and we discover a new space of liberation and freedom.
Indeed, being afflicted, persecuted and slaughtered is a terrible, fearful experience. The plant world teaches us that exactly where the plant is cut and pruned, a new sprout emerges, and we see new life. Even in medical science, sometimes healing processes demand or require cutting open or an operation to initiate a healing processes, to sustain and affirm life. When we are crushed, trampled, violated, brutalized, we lose ourselves and experience abandonment. But in our distress and elimination, God stands by us. In our affliction we see and behold God, who will make us sprout again with fuller life.
As we journey with the crucified One during this Lenten season, may God give us the grace to envision life anew with a new creative imagination of relationships, covenantal faithfulness and commitment in every responsibility, and in steadfast pilgrimage towards life’s goal. May God in His loving kindness enable us to behold God’s face, wisdom, power, and strength even in our foolishness and weakness, in our own forsaken experience, and in every crucified people and community.
Rev. Dr. D. Rathnakara Sadananda