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Friday, April 3, 2015

The Cross; from Torture to Salvation...

The blood of the martyrs...
When the hooded ISIS terrorists (Real manly to cover their faces isn't it?) brutally beheaded twenty one Coptic Christians in cold blood on a beach in Libya, they said it was a message "in blood to the nation of the Cross," meant to taunt Christians around the world, as they threatened to conquer Rome next (meaning the Vatican; the most recognized center of Christianity).

Yet, the Cross, which is venerated by Christians on Good Friday, is actually a taunt to ISIS and all the powers in the world that be, who maim, torture, terrorize and murder as a show of force and intimidation.

The true power of the Cross was displayed by many of the victims of the massacre, who were seen mouthing, "Jesus Christ" or "Jesus is Lord," as the executioners plunged their blades into their necks to sever their heads.

Like lambs led to slaughter, in the example of Jesus, the Coptic Christians gave up their lives, believing that their fate was not in their killers' hands but in God's.

In a recent video commentary (see below), Catholic theologian and author Fr. Robert Barron explains that it is through the Cross of death, which Jesus boldly embraced, that the "nation of the Cross," became the nation of life in the Resurrection.

There was nothing more horrific and terrifying for people in the ancient world than that of the cross.

During the Spartacus rebellion about 100 years before Christ, Roman authorities crucified thousands of his men along the road leading to Rome, as a message, like the terrorists of ISIS, of what can happen to those that "cross" the Empire.

In Jesus' day, Barron says, the cross was the Roman Empire's version of state sponsored terrorism.  It was used as a deterrent to anyone who considered stepping out of line; a brutal instrument of torture meant to leave victims in excruciating pain until they died and then their bodies were left hung on the cross, for all bystanders to see, until scavenging animals devoured their remains.

The wood of salvation...
Consider that when Jesus was arrested, his disciples ran for cover.  Possibly with the exception of John the beloved, they all fled from the cross and went into hiding, in fear and trembling.  The cross was too horrid, too terrible, too grotesque a reality.  Barron says it was the most disgusting, terrifying and humiliating death that anyone could imagine at the time, which is the irony of what Christianity started proclaiming.

On the heels of the Crucifixion of Jesus, it was a disturbing claim for first century Palestinians and Greeks to hear that God became Man and was brutally and sacrificially slaughtered like a criminal upon a cross.  And, if that weren't shocking enough, St. Paul, St. Peter and the rest of the Apostles were telling believers that they too should emulate and follow Christ on the Cross!

It was absurd.  It was preposterous and it was hard to imagine.  Yet, their conviction and fervor converted thousands and spread throughout the Roman Empire like wildfire until the Empire was converted within 300 years.  Why?  How? That is a mystery that only God knows but, to me, it can only be explained by this; they saw and experienced the Risen Lord, which gave them the strength and courage to boldly and effectively proclaim such a radical proposition, knowing very well their fate was on that same cross, if they ever got caught (and most of them did!).

In fact, the Cross became a symbol of taunt to the Roman authorities, as if saying, "I know this is what your power is based on but we're not afraid."  Barron says that Christians held up the Cross as a symbol of God's love, which conquered sin and death once and for all.

The priest also points out that, unlike Islam, whose followers get offended by cartoon depictions of the Prophet Mohammad in compromising positions, Christians hold up the mocked, humiliated and tortured Jesus, because we know that God's love is greater than any pain, suffering or disgrace in this world.

Thus, the Cross is a taunt, but not to Christians, as ISIS meant it to be, to those who abase it.

Second and third century Christian author, Tertullian once said, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church."  Without a doubt, those Coptic Christians were martyrs. And, that same Church that Tertullian spoke about, which started amidst the scandal of the Cross in the first century, and has outlived kingdoms, governments, systems, persecutions, wars, scandals and constant attempts to destroy her for the past two thousand years, continues to carry the Cross on high, enduring, like its founder, its full weight because of its promise.      

As our parish priest sang at the Veneration of the Cross service on Good Friday afternoon, "Behold the wood of the Cross on which is hung our salvation."...

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