Egeria, our ancient Christian grandmother, traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate Holy Week around the year 380.  She gathered with pilgrims at the church build atop the hill where Jesus was executed. Worship leaders retold the story of Jesus’ betrayal, suffering, and death. Then, she and hundreds of others processed one-by-one to bow and kiss the wooden cross set up there, signifying their reverence for Christ’s loving sacrifice and their devotion to him. We continue this pattern today. (1)

Our own rough-hewn cross reminds us that Jesus’ crucifixion is real. We touch the wood, press the solid timber, and trace the rough grain, knowing that Jesus’ hands and feet were nailed to a device such as this. This huge, horrifying, human event happened. Most of us will not go on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem the way Egeria did and experience the physical place where Jesus was executed. We can, however, through our physical contact with the cross, get in touch with the reality of Jesus’ presence, his historical earthly life, and the truth that he is “God with us” then and now. We aren’t in an imagined relationship with Jesus. We’re in an actual relationship. Jesus wasn’t crucified to save, heal, and redeem us in theory. He did it to actually forgive, salvage and save us.

The cross reminds us God took on human form in Jesus Christ because we need a savior.  The hard truth is that we need God to rescue us from ourselves. The cross confronts us: we aren’t independent; we aren’t in control; we cannot do everything on our own; we fail. (2) Touching Christ’s cross means touching our own cross, our own awful, messy, sinful brokenness. It means surrendering all our masks and acts and acknowledging our neediness for God’s mercy. Our only prayer is the one of the criminal dying beside Christ, “Jesus, remember me.”

The cross, however, also embodies the paradox of Good Friday: through Christ’s death, we experience life. For hundreds of years Christians have worshipped Christ proclaiming, “Behold the life-giving cross, on which was hung the Savior of the whole world.” The cross is humiliating and offensive. Yet, it most fully reveals God’s heart toward God’s people—God will do whatever it takes to love us and draw us back to God. God wants to hang with us in our awful, messy, sinful brokenness. Christ chooses to hang with us, the criminals, because he loves us.

The cross is about the historical truth of Jesus’ humiliation and death. It is also about our present reality, our need for forgiveness, healing and a restored relationship with God. Finally, encountering the cross means experiencing the purest expression of God’s ultimate, unconditional love for you. Touch the cross and you touch the desire of God to know and love you.

  1. Ramshaw, Gail, and Mons Teig. “Sundays and Principal Festivals.” Keeping Time: The Church’s Years. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2009. 105-06. Print.
  2. Lose, David J. “Event and Experience.” Making Sense of the Cross. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2011. 162-68. Print.