In tragedy there is hope.
The meaning of the Cross
So often when a tragedy happens we erect a cross at the scene. At the side of a road; the place of a disaster; on the grave of a loved one. But why the cross? Why put that up as a symbol?
It becomes the most appropriate symbol when we understand the meaning behind the cross. For the cross represents both evil and good, horror and healing, something that reminds us of the past and something that gives us hope for the future.
+ a symbol of compassion
How closely is God involved in suffering and tragedy? Does God sit above in the remoteness of heaven shouting down advice? Or has God become part of the scene and the misery?
Jesus, a young man of 33, was falsely tried by a kangaroo court, he was severely beaten up and tortured and taken out to a hill to have nails bashed through his hands and feet. In front of a mocking and chanting crowd, he was lifted up on a cross of wood so that the whole weight of his body was hanging on those Roman nails.
The story of the Bible is that God did more than anyone could have ever dreamt of. He opted to come and take part in the suffering of the world and suffer more than anyone could know.
God is not distant and unconcerned. He is a God who fully understands suffering; he knows what it is like to be caught up in a horrible massacre.
Look at the cross. God has been there. He knows the pain and torment. He is not the God simply of a serene smile or distant advice. He doesn't just sit cross-legged pondering the pain. Jesus says, Suffering is real. I know. I've come to stand with you.
Part of any real healing is to turn to the God of the cross, who cares and understands.
+ a symbol of the human heart
What happened at the cross of Jesus clearly shows us something is very wrong with human nature. It was a vicious massacre of human life. An expression of turning from God's goodness. At the cross it was people like you and me saying, "God, we don't want to listen to you. We want to do what we want." There is something so wrong with all of us, that when we get the chance, we will try to shut God up, push his laws away, and even kill our maker.
The cross shows up humanity in the worst possible light. We cannot attach blame to those who took part in the crucifixion of Jesus without recognising some of their weakness and motives in our own lives. We all know what it is to shut God out and ignore his laws.
+ a symbol of God's great love
When we look at the news we see such awful events: wars, rapes, murders, disasters. In the light of such atrocious events we may ask, "Is God really a God of love?" Well, look at the cross. That is a great sign from God saying, Look how I love!
When Jesus died, he cried out "Finished" or "The debt is paid". It is as if all our wrong thoughts and words and deeds, all the flaws in our character, were one gigantic bill which we owed to the perfect, holy God. He is so holy that he cannot pretend our wrong doesn't matter. He is so full of justice that he cannot pretend that lies, injustice and selfishness count for nothing. There has to be punishment. The penalty must be paid, and the debt is enormous. But on the cross he paid it himself. His own dear Son took the death we deserve and died in our place. What love for us!
We often erect a cross to remind us of loved ones whose lives were cruelly taken. The cross of Jesus reminds us of a life of love beautifully given, for all who come to him.
+ a symbol of hope
What good can come out of such evil? This is a big question that we often ask in the light of suffering. It was a question the early followers of Jesus were asking. But later they saw just who God is - a God who could take something as evil as the cross and turn it into the place of new life, reconciliation and hope. On the cross Jesus said, "Father, forgive them." And it is there, at the cross, where we can know the blessing of reconciliation – we can be people forgiven by God, and brought into real friendship with God forever. The cross is the real place of healing, for it brings us in touch with the real God, and gives us the hope of new life in the resurrection of Jesus.
The cross of Jesus has cast a shadow over the history of the world. That single event has made such a radical difference to so many people in so many places over such a long time that it is quite impossible to imagine the human story without it. Could it make that radical difference for you?
Written by Pete Woodcock, who is Pastor of Cornerstone Church, married to Anne and has two grown up children.