On occasion I wear one around my neck and every Sunday I look upon the symbol while I listen to the sermon. Nine times out of ten I don't give its offensiveness much thought because nine times out of ten it is a symbol of Christ's triumph over death*. Nine times out of ten I fail to embrace the brutality of the cross, choosing, instead, to skip straight to the resurrection.
Forget the hideous betrayal of one of his closest friends. Forget the Sanhedrin, Annas and Caiaphas and their devilish, criminal behavior. Forget the denial. Forget Herod Antipas and the mockery he made of the Son of God. Forget the release of a murderer in exchange for the death of holiness. Forget the severe beatings and the twisted crown of thorns. Forget that Pilate washed his hands of the whole ordeal. Forget the nails. Forget all of that blood. Dear God, let me forget all of that blood. Forget the hurling of insults. Forget "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" Forget that picture of a holy Savior in earthly brokenness. Forget the vulgarity of the cross. It's easy enough to do because I know what happens three days later. Pass over the suffering quickly and focus on the empty tomb, the victory, the Savior in shining glory.
Pass over it all. Because I see way too much of myself in that line up. I am Judas and Annas and Caiaphas and Peter and Herod and Pilate. It was my hand that drove the nails through perfection. I am the worst offender. Naturally I like to skip to the part where my Savior conquers sin and death and offers me forgiveness and grace. My depravity begs for the day when I shout in response, "He is risen, indeed!"
I believe in a mighty King but I do my faith a great disservice by deluding myself into believing that the resurrection is all that matters this week. The cross is ugly but in brushing over what happened there I cover up the very essence of my salvation. The Lamb of God came to take away the sin of the world (John 1:29) but he would have done it for me alone. All of that ugliness, just for me. So then, what is so desperately grotesque becomes the thing by which beauty is measured.
Sunday is coming. But not so fast. Not so fast.
"On the hillside, you will be delivered
At the foot of the cross justified
And your spirit restored
By the river that poured
From our blessed Savior's side
Go on up to the mountain of mercy
To the crimson perpetual tide
Kneel down on the shore
Be thirsty no more
Go under and be purified"
-Beautiful, Scandalous Night
"He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed." 1 Peter 2:24
*Colossians 2:15 "And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross."