People often express their thanks for the ‘gift of life’ and clearly that is the greatest thing about us. We are alive. I am. One of the earliest experiences of a child is to smile; to recognise their mother, their father. It is the first moment of relationship. But then we know life does not flow in a beautiful sequence of never-ending good experiences. Sooner or later, there is limitation, frustration, anger. In a word, opposition.
What we are invited to do in Lent is recognise there is another word for opposition: the cross. We are not to use this word lightly, as a negative nuisance in our lives; something to be avoided, ignored and, if possible, eradicated. True, if I have a tooth ache, I need to do something about it soonest. But if we change the word ‘opposition’ to ‘opportunity’, we reach a point, we already know this, that opposition is also a crisis, a moment of decision. How do I respond? And I will grow insofar as the choice I make is according to the true way of life or not. All creation comes to fulfilment in the cross because it stands for the moment of decision. When faced with the cross I can become truly myself – or I can run away from myself. Two images celebrate this: one is the Carthusian motto: Stat crux dum volvitur orbis, the cross stands (as the fixed point of creation) while the world swirls around (intent on its own agenda).
The other image, perhaps comveying the same idea, is Salvador Dali’s Salvator Mundi, Saviour of the World, (the painting here) which shows the cross brooding over the world much as the spirit brooded over creation (Gen.1:2).
From the beginning of the Christian era, we have recognised that the cross is not just the great event in the life and mission of Jesus; it is above all the central event of the whole of world history – the make or break event of humanity. When I wear a cross around my neck, it is not for decoration, still less a talisman. It is an expression of a commitment to make the kind of choices Jesus made, choices that give life, even if they lead, in the short run, to Calvary.
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