The Common Good

Bothered by the Cross

Sojomail - April 17, 2006


SPECIAL ISSUE: Bothered by the Cross 04.17.2006 www.sojo.net


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THEOLOGICALLY CONNECT ^top

Bothered by the cross
by Deanna Murshed

As someone who has been a Christian for a while now, I must confess that the idea of redemption through the cross has lost its power to bother or puzzle me as it did in the past.

I remember being jealous of folks who could confess a grand conversion experience that pulled them from lives of sheer drunken hedonistic debauchery - dramatic stories in which they were saved just in the nick of time - into resurrection just by the skin of their teeth. And although getting in by the skin of our teeth is surely true for all of us, it is at least more obvious in those great stories, for whatever reason.

But that is not my story.

Even my earliest memories include my mother sharing Bible stories with me. Though I struggled with the meaning or reality of these accounts to be sure - I can't recall a time when I didn't perceive myself within this grand story of redemption.

My mother showed me a simple faith. My father, on the other hand, questioned just about everything. And I somehow inherited both. God help those who hear me think out loud.

I also remember that as a child, the idea that Christ died on the cross and rose again for me - though it was repeated over and over again and I so desperately wanted to believe it made sense - seemed odd. But I think it was repeated often enough, that eventually, I just came to accept it. After all, the answer to almost any question in Sunday school was easy: "because Jesus died on the cross!"

So, somewhere along the road, I took it for granted that Christ lived, died, and rose again. Somewhere, maybe after I had responded to the sixth altar call - just to make sure God had duly noted my belief - I had heard it enough times to think I had this mystery of mysteries settled.

But every now and then, I come back to that place. Really, what in the world does this mean? Christ died on the cross. It is so easy to hear now that the absolute foolishness of it - and I mean that in the best possible way - simply ceases to amaze me.

But liturgical cycles are good for that - making you not forget any part of the story and asking you to revisit each station, as it were. One passage has been coming to mind (from John's gospel):

"Jesus replied, 'The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life'" (12:23-25).

The version of the Bible called The Message states the last verse this way: "In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you'll have it forever, real and eternal."

The part that really struck me recently (though I've surely heard it read a hundred times) is that the dying of the grain is not for the resurrection of the seed itself - you do not die simply to be resurrected into a better you. You don't give up that bad habit or attitude, greed or grudge, simply to come out on top. (Though I suppose that's not a bad place to begin). No, the grain dies so that it can produce and reproduce life. The passage says, unless a seed falls to the ground and dies it is no more than a single grain.

The answer as to why the grain needs to die is for it not to remain alone. In other words, Christ died so that he could bear more Christs and grow his reign!

Though this way of living for others seems like such a radical (re)orientation, all of creation seems to be screaming this message. Every part of the wheat is living for the spread of life, wants there to be more wheat. The most basic cycle of nature reflects the divine order.

It is simply astounding, when I think about it, that the God of creation does not live for direct self-satisfaction! The God of creation who has all power and all might is in constant submission to another purpose. And God is inviting us to follow.

When one reads the surrounding texts in John where Christ is trying to explain to his disciples who he is and why he must leave them, he is rather indirect. He never says, I do such and such because that is my plan. Rather, he points to the Father and then says that the Father points to the Son and has given Him authority. And then the Spirit testifies of the Son and so on and on. And then the Father lifts up the Son. It is almost comedic how each part of the trinity points the finger at the other - not in blame, as in the human tendency - but because of a perfect harmony, submission, and a trade of trust and authority between each member. This is a wholly different order - a glimpse of what divine community looks like.

I don't know about you, but completely surrendering my will for another goes against every grain of my self-preserving being. And it looks nothing whatsoever like our capitalist culture which encourages us to think the opposite - both economically and morally. The world says that if each individual seeks out his or her own personal fulfillment, we will all ultimately benefit. But the gospel compels us to seek the benefit of others with no guarantee of anything in return.

This is a terrifying invitation that should bother us.

But do our motives have to be absolutely perfect in the sight of God before we can follow? And can we ever reach the point of being perfectly other-oriented? (If so, I'm in trouble).

But I'm comforted that in scripture, I find myself in good company. Christ's disciples followed him for many reasons - not all of which were noble. Ironically, sometimes they were selfish in their pursuit of selflessness. Sometimes they sought to gain something (to meet earthly or eternal needs), other times because they knew there was no other way. Later, they figured a few things out - saw Christ more fully - and their motives changed to those of gratitude, and ultimately, they imitated Christ's example to obey simply because God is worthy.

So, I've come to believe that we hold on to this mysterious truth for different reasons at different times in our lives, though we may never come to fully understand how it is that Christ's death saves us.

That we should follow Jesus in his death so that we might really live is the message of this Easter season.

May God have mercy on us as we follow this call.

Deanna Murshed, integrated marketing manager at Sojourners, is a graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School's faith and culture program.

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Help protect suffering children!

The freedom to practice one's own religion. The right not to be hungry or cold. Protection from abduction, abuse, exploitation, and neglect. The right to live. Every child deserves these fundamental protections - everywhere and always.

Click here - join the voices to protect children!

The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child protects the basic rights of children and has been ratified by 192 countries - all but Somalia and the U.S. Sign the petition to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and urge the U.S. to join the rest of the world and protect the basic rights of every child!

P.S. Please spread the word to friends and urge them to speak out for suffering children!


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