LITURGY MATTERS – Why the cross?

Some weeks ago there was an ecumenical gathering focused on the question ‘Why the cross?’  It was a wonderful, engaging, enlightening evening.  Three of us spoke and I was stretched by the reflections shared by our two brothers from other Christian Churches. What follows is an abbreviation of the reflection I gave.  As we journey through Holy Week which pivots on the cross, you might reflect on your own response to the question, ‘Why the Cross?’

I wear a particular cross every day.  I have spent much of my life reflecting on the cross: sometimes picking it up, carrying it, standing in its shadow, holding it with others, avoiding it, questioning it, seeking its wisdom, guidance and love.

From where I stand at the moment, in response to the question ‘What the cross?’ I say:

  • Because ‘the cross’ reveals in all its shocking vulnerability, the love of God for us and all creation,
  • Because in Jesus ‘the cross’ reveals the most perfect human response to God’s love.
  • Because in and through ‘the cross’ I am confronted by, experience and come to know God’s very self – not the God I conjure in my own image – but God’s self.
  • Because in and through ‘the cross’ I come to know myself and ourselves together.
  • Because ‘the cross’ is my and our inspiration and critique; at once our wisdom and the paradox that invites us to view the world and human life through the eyes, heart and mind of Jesus.

The cross confronts us with a truth that says: the real power is love not might; the way to fullness of life is self-emptying not self-interest and control; happiness and peace is to be found in concern for the other rather than the self; wisdom and strength are found in vulnerability.

The cross reveals a truth that is at once shocking and something that we know in our human experience.  Through the presence and action of the Holy Spirit, such human experiences are our participation in the cross of Christ, irrespective of how consciousness we are of that.  In Jesus, God shows us the way of love that leads to fullness of life.  And God leaves us free to choose life or not.

To choose life, to choose to love as God loves us, will lead to the cross of Christ, and always beyond it to resurrection and new life, a new life that is beyond our imaginings.  This is the source of Christian HOPE.  The cross, death, darkness is not the last word.  Love triumphs.  It is divine love that makes the cross holy.

Without the cross, I and we, cannot live meaningfully, purposefully and with integrity.  Without it, I can easily fall into living and working for Louise’s interpretation of God’s reign rather than God’s reign.  I need the cross right there in my face if I am to keep growing and changing and becoming more and more true to the image of God in which I and we are created.

And I need the liturgy where we remember and celebrate the cross within its proper context, the Paschal Mystery.  In the liturgy we experience this mystery as an intensely present reality, not something over and done with.  In the liturgy I immerse myself in the story and meaning of the cross so that I learn to live as Christ:  as a person marked by the cross; a person whose sign is the cross; a person who recognises it in life and society and who responds in life as we respond in liturgy.  We sign ourselves with the cross, over and over and over so that ultimately it gets so into our muscles and bones so our lives become a sign of the cross and of resurrection. 

In the language of eucharist, I lean to join myself to Christ, offering myself through him, with him and in him, to be taken, blessed, broken open and poured out and given in love for the life of the world. 

One of the important things for me about the way, and the why of how ‘the cross’ features in our Churches and liturgy is that the image before me is not the end.  The cross is not God’s last word.  The cross leaves me to work it out for myself/for ourselves.  I have to work out what form such a loving, self-emptying response is going to look like here and now.  I like that the mystery remains, and that I have to participate in it.  I have to open myself to the love of God and the power of the Holy Spirit and discern the loving way forward today.

The point of the cross is the same as the point of liturgy: to rehearse us for life; for paschal living: to draw us in to participate in the divine life so that we will be changed and through us the world will be changed by love.  The ‘cross of Christ’ becomes Christian when I live it as the way of love and new life.

Why the Cross? For the sake of the continuation of Christ’s mission in the world here and now and it’s coming in its fullness.

Why the cross? What do you say?

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Louise Gannon rsj Image
Louise Gannon rsj

Louise Gannon rsj is the Diocesan Co-ordinator of Liturgy.