Our God lies in the tomb this day. He has been cruelly tortured and murdered. His followers, those to whom he had revealed his glory and power throughout three long years full of wonders and truth, have scattered and fled, huddled together in fear, all hope drained from them.
Yet as Christians we believe, not that Christ’s defeat was short-lived, but that he was never defeated at all. The unspeakable sufferings of the crucifixion were undertaken by Jesus, not inflicted upon him. He did not endure his tortures; he embraced them. His suffering was excruciating, but it was suffered with unfathomable love, the love he held — and holds — for each one of us. The cross was the victory of Christ, not his defeat, his unanswerable rebuke of hatred and sin and death. “Nails were never enough to hold the God-Man fastened to the Cross had love not held Him captive first,” writes the late John Cardinal Wright in his magnificent little volume of reflections on the Seven Last Words (Words in Pain, p. 44).
Today, the cross is indeed still “a stumbling block” and “foolishness” to the world. Even many Christians find the image troubling, wondering what sort of God could will such a thing to occur, how this horrible death could have any place in our redemption. I am no theologian, only a troubled believer on my journey, but I hold fast to the hope that the Crucified offers me. For me this is not some soteriological accounting, a cosmic tit for tat to offset the offense of our mythical first parents. The Cross is God’s ultimate demonstration of how much love will do, even when given no reason to do so.
God is love. The question that assertion raises in the context of the Crucifixion is not, I believe, “How could a loving God wish such a death upon His Son?” but rather “How can we fail to respond to a love that would give so much?” The challenge is not to the nature of God but to us: what are we going to make of our lives and our world to attempt to justify such an extravagant gesture on the part of the Son of God?