Q: Archbishop J, If Jesus is risen from the dead, why do we still focus on the cross?
Great question! One would think that once the Resurrection has happened the crucifixion is no longer important. This is not so, for a variety of reasons. Let us journey with the scripture and the tradition to learn why the crucifixion remains central to the proclamation of the Good News. To begin with, we start all Christian prayer under the Sign of the Cross—”In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”.
St Paul made the crucifixion central to his message. He writes: “Jews demand signs and Greeks search for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1: 22–24).
This is important. The Apostle puts the message of the cross at the centre of the proclamation of the Good News. He understands that preaching the cross is not efficient or convenient. Yet, he keeps the crucifixion central to his message. Emphasising the point in the next chapter, he says: “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified”(1 Cor 2:2).
Jesus before His crucifixion and death made the cross a criterion for discipleship. After Peter revealed Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus then reveals that the Christ was a suffering servant. Peter rebuked Him and Jesus turned and said to Peter, “‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.’ Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it’” (Mt 16:23–25).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “Jesus accepted Peter’s profession of faith, which acknowledged Him to be the Messiah, by announcing the imminent Passion of the Son of Man. He unveiled the authentic content of His messianic kingship both in the transcendent identity of the Son of Man ‘who came down from heaven,’ and in His redemptive mission as the suffering Servant: ‘The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’” (CCC 440).
Hence, the true meaning of His kingship is revealed only when He is raised high on the cross. Only after His Resurrection will Peter be able to proclaim Jesus’ messianic kingship to the People of God: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36).
Here we see the cross is not just an instrument of torture invented by the Romans, it is also the instrument of revelation used by God.
The four Isaiah passages of the suffering servant have been used by the early Church to interpret Jesus’ death on the cross. Thus, the cross is a spiritual path that all disciples must embrace.
Discipleship requires sacrifice and pain—giving over our will to God’s will. Jesus says this up front. In fact, He rebukes Peter who is proposing the soft option. Salvation without suffering. The rebuke names Peter as ‘a satan’. (Mt 16:23).
This spiritual path is opened for us by St Paul in the hymn of Philippians 2:5–8:
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God
something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Here in the cross, we see the “Icon of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). God is a suffering God! Suffering because God is the consummate lover rejected by His beloved, us—His Church. This self-emptying is the inner heart of God: it is also the invitation to the disciple and the path to holiness.
The cross is an instrument of love
When Jesus received all the violence, pain, hatred and insults we had to give, Jesus stretched out on the cross says: “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). This is love incarnate.
Here the brutality of the cross is consumed by the unstoppable love of God. St Paul says: “When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’” (1 Cor 15:54–55)
The last words of Jesus on the cross are instructive. On the cross, Jesus says to the good thief: “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Paradise was closed since Genesis Chapter Three. It was closed because of the sin of Adam.
Now paradise is opened through the sacrifice of Jesus who gives everything to God while on the cross. Then, He says: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). In this, He quotes Psalm 31.
On the cross Jesus is praying and offering God everything. This is what love looks like; what sacrifice looks like—the wood of the cross becomes sacred. Through a tree we were separated from God: Through a tree we were united to God. The cross is not a sign of defeat. It is a sign of victory.
When Jesus appears to the disciples in the upper room, He shows them His hands and side—His wounds. The risen Jesus still carries the wounds of the cross. But now they are glorious, and through them the light of the Resurrection shines.
Key Message: The cross, the worst instrument of torture has been transformed into an instrument of love by the death and Resurrection of Christ. We keep the cross central because it is an invitation to discipleship.
Action Step: Reflect on your relationship and reaction to the cross. Do you keep the cross central to your discipleship?
Scripture Reading: Hebrews 12:12; 1 Peter 2:24