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  • Fr. John Jennings

Our Sacred Stories ~ The Cross: Symbol of Love & Hope

One of the great symbols that we have in most of our churches and in many other spaces including our homes is the crucifix. This is an image that has the suffering Christ on the Cross. It represents the great sacrifice that Jesus made and the pain of that sacrifice. It says a lot about the Jesus of our faith. But it does not say it all. More importantly it may blind us to an even more important aspect of Jesus the Christ and of what he reveals about our God.

The crucifix only became a significant symbol for Christians quite late in Christian history. The early Christians and for more than the first 1000 years of our history had a different cross as symbol of their faith. It was a glorious cross, representing the resurrection and Jesus’ victory over even death. Often it had no figure on it, frequently it was richly decorated and a stunning sign of the wonder of what God has shown through the risen Christ. This symbol expresses the full story of our salvation. That is, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. This is what we mean by the Paschal Mystery.

In the Gospels, Jesus reveals the unconditional, total love of God for us. In Jesus’s words and actions, we repeatedly witness this love in real terms. Matthew expresses this (Matt 18:21-35). Peter asks how many times he should forgive a sister or a brother. Would 7 be enough? (In biblical language the number 7 was used to mean totality or completeness.)

Jesus’ response is astounding. “Not seven time, but I tell you seventy-seven times.” We must forgive and reconcile without limit. Our God loves us without limit, the model given us by Jesus is a love that is unceasing and as his disciples, that is our mission. In the name of the unceasing love we receive, we are to express it to others, all others. We are to be the face of God’s love and mercy to our world.

But do we really believe this? Is this really how we see the God of our Christian faith. So often we still think and speak of a God who is primarily a judge, one who stands ever ready to measure and close the gates of heaven to us. To accept that all of us, every single human being is held in the palm of God’s hand and that God will never let go of us, seems so difficult for us.

What our faith is really all about is expressed in two core beliefs, the Incarnation – that in Jesus, God has come and lives among us and the Paschal Mystery of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection – where Jesus expresses how our God is saving and life-giving. Our faith holds to a God of steadfast love.

It may be difficult for us to understand this. It may be hard to accept it in our hearts and lives. It may be a struggle to let go of some of our ingrained images of God. But what the whole life and message of Jesus proclaimed is that God loves all of us unconditionally.

Perhaps we have to take this more seriously. God loves us with our goodness and our badness. God loves us as saints and God loves us as sinners. God loves us long before we commit any sin, and loves us long after we have sinned.

The medieval mystic Julian of Norwich (c.1343-1416) once described heaven like a banquet to which God has invited everyone. God is there in their midst, welcoming everyone, meeting and speaking with everyone and smiling at and with everyone. This is the God of unconditional love – no judging, no condemning. And if there is a big book with many names, it is not the book of judgement. It is the invitation list and it is infinite in its length, for it includes all. Can I live such a faith? Is my God that big?

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