Meditation on a Crucifix I Saw Today
I saw a crucifix this morning, and made a point of really looking at it. As I did so, a question occurred to me, followed immediately by the question’s answer.
“How do we draw near to God?”
“By being crucified with Christ, His Son.”
Then, rapidly, a series of Bible passages came to me:
“I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, and the life I live I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
“I appeal to you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1)
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ have been baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3-4)
“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16-24-26)
Looking at the crucifix, it was as though I too was me nailed to the cross, not just Jesus. Too often we fail to take seriously that, like Paul, we are “crucified with Christ.” That, at baptism, we are baptized “into his death” on the cross. That we are, “living sacrifices” made holy through the one sacrifice that matters, Christ’s.
We like to think about pleasanter things, yet to avoid living in the cross of Christ is to avoid the love of God and His Son, for it is at the cross alone that we can encounter God’s love; it is there, in the extremity of self-denial—death—that we experience a love that surpasses understanding. And, it is there that we experience life as God intended it to be, a God-centered life instead of an ego-centered life.
To state the obvious, death is the end of life as we know it. But, in the cross of Christ we learn that God intends that life as we know it give way to the life of God, an eternal life. We become, in the words of Second Peter, “partakers of the divine nature.” The cross is the place where God removes our cancerous ego to make room for an entirely new center of life.
This New Center, as the Second Peter passage suggests, is the Holy Spirit, so the life of God is not merely being “born again” in the sense of turning over a new leaf. It is not learning the Bible so that it becomes a roadmap for a life journey where our only contact with God is what we see in the map until we reach heaven.
The divine surgery of dying with Christ is what enables us to live the life of the Risen One, of leaving behind the selfishness of our ego, the addictive nature of our desires, and the need to demonstrate our importance so all can see it. If dying with Christ is to die to the world and our ego, it is also to die with Christ towards God.
Counter-intuitively, the more I die to myself, the more I become myself. The self I want people to think I am starts to fade away. The cross kills self-hatred, self-obsession, and self-consciousness. It kills snobbery, indifference, and self-righteousness. It kills identity through comparison. As in all dying, this process can happen quickly, or it can take a long time. Sometimes, it seems as though nothing is happening and that life goes on much as it always has, while the death-dealing cross works below the surface of things, below my awareness, slowly subverting my self-absorbed contentment.
Superficially, all this talk of the cross, of dying to self for the sake of living the life of Jesus, sounds gloomy and even depressing. It isn’t. It’s the way of Jesus, who embraced the cross for our sakes. We hear him say “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me” (John 14:6), but too often fail to consider what he meant by being “I am the way,” and so fail to see that death is the (only) means by which we enter God’s life, which is joy.
A construction image captures the importance of the cross. If one is going to build a great building, one begins by digging deep into the ground to lay a solid foundation for that building. Coming to the cross, dying with Christ, is laying a solid, spiritual foundation for a life that is bigger and better than we can imagine.
The author if Hebrews captures it best:
“. . . let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endure the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God,” (Hebrews 12:1-2)