Power From the Cross
Power From the Cross
by Fr. Fio Mascarenhas, S.J.
We hail Thee, Saviour and Lord; thy cross ever be adored!"
With these words, the chorus of a popular hymn expresses well the sentiments of millions of believers through the ages who, instead of revulsion at the sight of a cross, in fact feel great consolation and devotion. And rightly so, for together with "blood" and "death," the "cross" has become one of the most popular terms in Christianity, calling to mind the salvation and new life Jesus has won through it for humanity.
Paul expressed the normal, spontaneous reaction of every man and woman to the cross in the words, "a scandal (or stumbling block) for the Jews and nonsense (or folly) for the pagans" (1 Cor 1:23). Crucifixion was a punishment reserved for slaves-it was not only a cruel death, but was considered a disgrace (see Heb 12:2; 13:13) and a curse (see Gal 3:13). Yet, the cross was meant to become, someday, in God's providence, the instrument of redemption for mankind. Therefore, Paul could write, "for us who are being saved, it is " (1 Cor 1:18).
The cross, therefore, contains within itself a great mystery, and an awesome power, which we can by faith. Innumerable blessings have come to human beings in and through the cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ. "Come to me, all you who labor and are overburdened, and I will give you rest!" (Mt 11:28), said Jesus, and He could say it confidently because He knew that in His being "lifted up" on the cross one day, He certainly would receive the power to "draw all men to himself" (Jn 12:32).
1. Forgiveness and Reconciliation The greatest blessing the cross brings is our . Before the death of Jesus, God in His mercy "overlooked" people's sins. The Old Testament puts this in a picturesque way: "You have cast all my sins behind your back" (Is 38: 17), or, "As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our sins from us" (Ps 103:12), or, "You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea" (Mi 7:19)!
The New Testament then tells us, "In the past, God was patient and overlooked people's sins; but in the present time their sins" (Rom 3:25, TEV). Jesus' body, hanging on the cross "in the likeness of sinful flesh" now enabled God "to condemn sin in the flesh" (Rom 8:3). God "reconciled all things to himself, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace " (Col 1:20). God forgave us "all our trespasses, having cancelled the bond that stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross" (Col 2:14). Hence, John confidently asserts, "We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; He is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 Jn 2:1).
As people gaze gratefully at the crucifix and put their faith in the saving death of Jesus on the cross, they can grow in personal confidence and become able to face life with courage and inner peace. Paul knew how great a sinner he was, yet his confidence in was so great that by "forgetting the things of the past" he could always "press on toward the goal" (Phil 3:12-14).
As he himself revealed, "the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal 2:20). We, too, must learn to hold fast to this grace, so that what we sing about in our prayer time of "praise and worship" becomes, in fact, the basic orientation of the whole of our lives.
Full reconciliation is achieved by the cross of Jesus not only between humanity and God, but also within humanity between groups of people. Talking about the Jews and the Gentiles, Paul asserts, "he is our peace who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility . . . that he may create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body, " (Eph 2:14-16). Again, he insists, "As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female; for you in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:27f).
This power of the cross to transform society is communicated to believers in baptism, establishing for each person the absolute foundation of personal dignity and intrinsic worth, and removing all cause for discrimination on every level. May Christians everywhere not "rob the cross of its power" (1 Cor 1:17, TEV) or "live as enemies of the cross" (Phil 3:18), by discriminating on the basis of color or race, but allow the blessings of the cross to radically transform our culture!
2. Freedom From Fear
A second major blessing we receive he cross is . G. K. Chesterton put it well when he said, "Those signed with the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark!" "Ballad of the White Horse".
Paul tells us the reason why- because by Jesus' death on the cross, God "disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him" (Col 2:15). Explaining this still more, Paul writes, "Christ humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. . . . every knee must bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord!" (Phil 2:5-11).
Consequently, the disciples of Christ can pray with confidence, in the words of the Our Father, to be "delivered from evil," and in the words of the Mass, to be "protected from all anxiety," for it is absolutely sure that "the kingdom and the power and the glory" is irrevocably HIS. The lives of the saints and martyrs, and of millions of ordinary Christians, bear striking testimony that this grace is actually received God has granted them, "that being delivered from the hand of their enemies, they might serve him , in holiness and righteousness, all the days of their life, in his presence" (Lk 1:74). We, too, need to mature in this respect, so that in all the difficulties and storms of life, we continue to receive strength and peace from being "signed with the cross."
3. Abundant Life
All the other blessings of the cross can be included under the title "abundant life" (Jn 10:10). The cross is the new "tree of life" (Rv 22:2,14), from which comes the healing of the nations. Already , Jesus founded His Church to be the sacrament of new life, for the "blood and water" that flowed from His pierced side (see Jn 19:34) symbolized the gift of the Spirit soon to be given through the Church, in baptism and the Eucharist.
Physical and inner healings, character gifts pertaining to the fruit of the Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace, goodness, self-control, etc.), dynamism for the apostolate and motivation or inspiration for fruitful service of humanity are all part of the "abundant life" resulting from the cross.
4. Opportunity to Share the Cross Finally, like Paul, we must "never want to boast of anything but the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Gal 6:14). This means that we must not only (rightly) seek the blessings of the cross, but we must also be ready to share in the shame and the pain of the cross ourselves, whenever the Lord gives us the opportunity for it. And opportunities will be plentiful, for Jesus said, "If any person would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Lk 9:23). Those who only seek the power of the cross in terms of signs, wonders and blessings, but refuse to share in the sorrowful mysteries of Jesus and so to be "conformed to his image" (Rom 8:29), are not true disciples and friends of the Lord. There is a hidden mystery present in the cross that gives it new meaning, as Jesus explained on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:25). All of us must discover this, and live it joyfully, for His glory.
Father Fio Mascarenhas is a Jesuit priest who writes from Bombay, India.
This article appeared in the February 1996 issue of "New Covenant" magazine. To subscribe write Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750-9957 or call 1-800-348-2440. Published monthly at a charge of $18.00 per year.