When our children were younger, we had a tradition that they always got a pound coin in their Christmas stocking. I would get two pound coins and because they had become dull with use I would get some chrome cleaner I used for my motorbike and shine and buff them until they were gloriously shiny again.
What made me think about that were some words from the theologian Alister McGrath. He said that
“Staleness is the curse of modern Christianity. Ideas, words and images have lost their freshness. What was once white hot with the excitement of discovery has become dull and lacklustre. … They have suffered the most degrading fate of all, they have become so familiar that they begin to seem tedious”.
What Alister McGrath was specifically talking about was the Cross and Resurrection. Easter is fast approaching and during Lent, the run up to Easter, the church has traditionally focused on the Cross and empty tomb. McGrath is suggesting that for all too many Christians familiarity has bred not contempt but perhaps a yawn of apathy. He is suggesting that we have read about, heard preaching about, sung songs about the Cross so much that the message of the Cross fails to move our hearts very much any more. I think he is right.
As we approach Easter, for the health of my own soul more than for any other reason, here in my blog I am going to be reflecting on the cross with the hope of reconnecting with its message with a new freshness and vitality. I want to invite you to join me in doing that. I want us to be amazed and awestruck again by what God did in and through the Cross of Christ.
I think to do that we need to realise again the distinction between events and their significance. The Gospel is based on historical facts, Jesus really did live die and rise again. Yet those historical facts on their own are not the Gospel. It’s the significance of those events that are the essence of our faith. The fact that Jesus died is history but the fact that He died for your sins, well that is Good News.
Think of it like this. Around 50 years before Jesus was born a group of soldiers crossed a river called the Rubicon into Italy. Nothing unusual about that event in and of itself, people crossed that river every day. But if someone who knew the significance of what was happening had seen that event they would have realised that it was an event whose implications would change history. The Rubicon marked the border between territory ruled by the Roman Senate and the rest of their empire. No General was allowed to bring their army across that river. So, when Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon he was declaring war on the Senate and through winning that war Caesar changed the whole direction of history.
Sadly, tens of thousands of people, maybe more, were crucified by the Romans. Crucifixion was a familiar sight to people in the Roman world. To those watching, Jesus being crucified would have appeared to be just another execution. However, to those of us who know its significance, its like Caesar crossing the Rubicon it is an event that changed things radically. It changed history. It changed us. The writers of the New Testament when under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit grappled with how to explain the significance of Jesus death and resurrection came to use powerful images and metaphors. These images were meant to speak to both the heart and the head. I worry they are no longer touching our heart in any significant way. Over the next couple of weeks, we are going to think about some of those images that help us understand the cross in the hope of reconnecting with the life changing message they embody.