The character of God is best revealed in the person of Jesus. God had one opportunity at a human life, perhaps not by necessity but by choice. Understanding who God is and what a life of discipleship to Christ entails, is to grasp at the thrust of Jesus' life. From his own unique vantage point, God witnessed the history of the universe from the moment of its inception. The hunger pangs of a fox, the tears of a beaten child, and every boisterous laugh at the conclusion of a punch-line was witnessed by the acute awareness of the Father. On that night when Jesus was born, the wishes and hopes of God for this universe materialized in an infant.
Jesus spent only three years traveling with his message. And then he died. This was God's life's-work on this planet. This is why the cross is crucial to any semblance of understanding of God. In his one opportunity at life, he chose to die nailed to a cross as a climax to preaching new life. As followers of Christ, we follow the kingdom message, we follow the cross. We do this because this is what God saw was needed. Having seen the universe unfurl, he chose not to establish a kingdom with force as a powerful human conquerer, he chose not to be meek and quiet in the face of tragedy, he chose the way of the cross.
This year God has dared me to re-experience the cross. He shipped me into another hemisphere with a shortage of money to meet with him so he could reform my life and is now telling me that I am holding back, that I have not grasped just how radical Jesus' call is. And he says it all begins with the cross. For years, having been in the church essentially from birth, I knew that I knew about the cross. It was so central, so obvious that to hear about it again seemed so utterly redundant. But the truth is out: I know virtually nothing about the nails, about the tree the wood was hewn from, or about the meaning of the act. I know virtually nothing about the message Jesus was willing to die for. And I have stood where he supposedly died. I have seen the mount where he will return. I've even walked the Via Dolorosa. And yet, ask me what the cross means, and I will barely be able to fill three or four pages.
Lent was an old Christian tradition (but really only old within certain strands of Christianity; it is still being practiced by many branches of the Church) of fasting, prayer, and meditation leading up to Easter; to help pierce the depth of what had been done at Golgotha. This year I am reviving that practice, bringing it to my own life. I need to re-experience the cross. I'm an avid gamer, so God told me to drop games. Period. For the 40 days leading up to Easter, I will play no video games. And I tell you, life is a lot more quiet. A lot of time to think. A lot of time to experience. I needed something to help guide my thoughts, something that could prompt my mind in dynamic and exciting ways. And so I found a wonderful little tome, a collection of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's writings on the cross, aptly called "Meditations on the Cross" (Bonhoeffer is one of the most influential Christian thinkers of the 20th century, and a victim of the Nazi Holocaust; he brilliantly wrote on the subject of forgiveness from the Nazi extermination camps).
So far, so good.
Recently, a stray cat in my neighborhood adopted my family. We responded by going to the store and getting it cat food so that it would survive the winter. Crushingly, our rental contract stipulates that we can't have any pets, so we have to leave him outside every night. Every night outside my window I can hear it moaning and whimpering in the most disturbing, heart-wrenching noise that I have ever heard. And this coming from a guy who watched a little puppy get torn apart by other dogs in a street fight in Israel. But every night, I leave my window closed, and try to get some sleep. I feel like God's message on the cross is haunting me outside my window just like the cat. It's a call that needs to be answered, one that can't be ignored. It's unforgettable, and leaves me with the sense that I need to leave my window open just to hear its perspiration-inducing tones.
To grasp at what Jesus wants for my life, to grasp what Jesus wants for this world, I need to open the window and let my heart be haunted. I need to re-experience the cross, re-experience what it is that would make someone willing to die at age thirty-three, re-experience what it is that would make someone express so radical a love, so deep a passion to which only death could serve as a medium. It's March 9th as I write this. 34 days to Easter. 34 days to the cross.