“See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”
This is really the crux (I use that word deliberately) of the Christian faith: this idea that God, at His very core, is love and goodness. This idea, like Paul says in Romans, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good.” This idea, like God tells the exiles in Jeremiah, “For I know the plans I have for you…plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
And yet here is Jesus telling the disciples that he must go to the cross, and the disciples fail to understand. Really, how could they understand? They had left everything to follow this man. They watched as he calmed the sea and fed 5000 and healed the blind. Peter proclaimed he was the Messiah, and Jesus said “Blessed are you.” This man was the embodiment of hope, of love. This man and this rag-tag team of castoffs, the not-good-enoughs who were apprenticed to no other teacher, whose only hope was the family trade. Now, they had Jesus. They witnessed miracle after miracle from his hands. Now, he tells them that he must die.
There are the disciples, unable to understand what Jesus is saying. And most often, we stand there, too. Most often, we cannot place the trials and worries of this life into paradox with the unblemishing promises of God. We see marriages near us falter and fail. Family members get sick. We all know someone who has lost his or her job. Friends die. Or, to come too close: we lose hope. Another setback — vocational, relational, whatever. Most often, there is the darkness — the warning of death and we can’t comprehend how this can fit in God’s grand scheme.
And yet it is Paul, in that same letter to the Romans, who says “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Or in Jeremiah, in the same chapter where God promises hope and a future, he tells the exiles: “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce.” In other words: you aren’t going home soon. There is this terrible paradox. The promise and the present suffering. There is Jesus saying that he will die, and the disciples cannot understand.
And yet this is the paradox of the cross: the place where God maybe most truly meets the world. The symbol itself is a paradox, two perpendicular lines, one reaching to heaven and the other spreading out over the earth. It is in the paradox of the cross that we find, however faint, a hint of hope. The death that on Saturday seems overwhelming turns out to be life-saving on Sunday. The command to stay in Babylon does not diminish God’s plans. The present sufferings are not worth the glory to be revealed.
And so today I hope to discover the cross in new ways, and the paradox therein. Sometimes it is simple things that bring the darkness: a crying baby, no time to myself, being stuck inside all day. Sometimes it is big things: an emergency C-section, a scary diagnosis, the loss of a job. But the cross demands that we don’t see events in the short-term and in the world’s eyes. It demands that we imagine and pray and hope for an empty tomb — something more glorious than we could understand, even if we were told.
No, most of the time we are the disciples on the walk to Jerusalem. We hope for a kingship. We are met with a death. And we are just beginning to comprehend how this death is more beautiful than we could imagine.