Fanny Crosby’s famous hymn, “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross”, with it’s subsequent lines, “Near the cross! O Lamb of God, bring its scenes before me; help me walk from day to day, with its shadows over me,” has achieved nearly iconic status in the world of Christian hymnody in last 130 years since its first appearance as a Sunday School song.
Rightfully so. Christians do well to think more and to think deeply about the cross and its significance. However, as Kenneth Leech in his book, We Preach Christ Crucified, poignantly asserts, “…the passion… cannot be seen or understood from the outside.” It should not be seen merely as an external event. It should be a participation, otherwise it is a source of defilement not healing.
He quotes Paul’s letter to the Philippians 3.10, to know Christ and the power of his resurrection can only occur as a result of sharing in his death. He continued that true theology…”demands passion, anguish, doubt: if these are not present, there is no true engagement with the living God, but only a fascination with or interest in the idea of god.”
This is reminiscent of Luther’s theologia crucis (theology of the cross), in his Hiedelberg Disputations in 1518 in which he states that the cross is more than just a place to be justified, but a place where God shows up in the difficulties and sufferings of this life, “God hidden in suffering”.
Leech cites Richard Jefferies’ novel Bevis: “If God had been there, he wouldn’t have let them do it,” but “the Christian gospel hangs on the belief that God was there, that God was at the heart of the pain and anguish, that the wounds were the wounds of God. God heals us by his wounds”.
Certainly, there is great value in gazing on the scenes of the cross through the lens of biblical history as revealed in the Gospels. The atonement is on display in the death and shed blood of Christ
But there is more to the cross than substitution, or justification. Sanctification is on offer, a “co-cruxifiction”, a metamorphosis, Romans 12.1 a change that can only be understood by participation.
May God deliver us from a mere curiosity about the cross, a “fascination with or interest in the idea of god”, which leads us neither to the cross nor to God.
What is the cross to you? Are you an onlooker or also a participant?
Saint Paul was a recipient of the benefits of the cross. He declared,
“I am crucified with Christ.” Galatians 2.20