Palm Sunday A-20
Immanuel, Chicago

I’ve had this old cross more than twenty years now. It has cracks, saw marks, dents, and worm holes. It is so time-worn and irregular it appears it was fashioned by nature rather than by human hands. Every angle tells a story.

It’s just two pieces of wood—three if you count the base—notched together and nailed into place. It is surprisingly sturdy, heavy, and solid. This old cross speaks to me of former lives lived—of poverty, of hardship—of lives made strong by faith and made beautiful by grace.

As I child I saw the cross in my church as a reminder only of Jesus’ suffering and my guilt. The cross of Christ said, look what you did to me! Look at the pain you inflicted, the violence you harbor in your heart, the energy and ingenuity you invest in hating your enemies and in rejecting the love of God.

The cross speaks all these truths of course. Yet it became the central Christian logo and sign of the good news because it also stands for more than judgment for sin. The cross is the tree of life with leaves meant for the healing of the nations. The cross is a door. Knock and it will be opened to you. It is the gate of the good shepherd that swings wide to lead out into green pasture. It is the gate of the sheepfold that closes to give shelter from thieves and bandits. The cross is a trail marker on the way. It is a compass that points to truth and the life.

The cross was what people remembered. The cross is the root from which all four gospels sprang. The end is the beginning. Everything told about Jesus before the passion grew from the scandal, mystery, and glory of the cross.

Perhaps this pandemic brings us a little closer to uncovering its mystery and meaning. These strange chaotic, overwhelming, lonely, and difficult days might open our fisted minds to the gospel. Afterall, the cross reveals that pain and suffering are among life’s most profound teachers. Powerlessness is the beginning of wisdom. This life is not about you, but you are about life.

St. Paul quotes an early Christian hymn and creedal statement in his letter to the church in Philippi. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness” (Philippians 2:5-7).

Jesus emptied himself in riding into Jerusalem on a humble colt as people shouted hosanna! He is going to die. Joyous happy people surround him including his disciples who do not yet understand what he’s doing. I confess I have lived through many an Easter this way. I take solace knowing that Jesus went to the cross for them anyway. He goes there for me. Jesus went to the cross for all those happy, clueless, soon to be fair-weather-friends. He did it for those who betrayed him. He did it for those who despised and hated him. He did it for the whole God-hating world. He did it to show us all the way to eternal life that leads through death.
This Thursday is the feast day of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was executed in a Nazi prison camp just days before it was liberated by Allied forces. Bonhoeffer reflects on the meaning of the cross this way. “Humans are challenged to participate in the sufferings of God at the hands of a godless world. One must therefore plunge oneself into the life of a godless world, without attempting to gloss over its ungodliness with a veneer of religion or trying to transform it. . . One must abandon every attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, a converted sinner, a churchman… To be a Christian does not mean to be religious in a particular way, to cultivate some particular form of asceticism. . . but to be a human being. It is not some religious act which makes a Christian what he is, but participation in the suffering of God in the life of the world… It is in such a life that we throw ourselves utterly in the arms of God and participate in his sufferings in the world and watch with Christ in Gethsemane. That is faith, and that is what makes a human and a Christian. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison)

Walking the way of the cross will make us more human. Wouldn’t that be a great result of this paschal season? This holy week, I encourage you to take out your cross. Do you have one on the wall, standing on a shelf somewhere, or hanging around your neck? Perhaps there is an image of the cross that speaks to you from the internet? I’m particularly drawn to those photos of the cross taken by Ansel Adams, or paintings of the cross by Georgia O’keefe. As we Stay-at-Home to save lives remember God is with you and we are joined together in spirit. We are gathered to Christ at the cross. No matter the burden, no matter the hardship we, like this old rugged cross, are made strong again by faith, and made beautiful by grace. Let the people shout Hosanna! Our help is near. Amen.