Many years ago I was invited to speak to a group of students at an art college.
The meeting was arranged by one of the art lecturers who thought art students should be aware of some of the ways Christianity had influenced the arts over many centuries. Most of the students were Marxists, materialists or agnostics. I gave a short address and then engaged in a ‘question time.’ After some vigorous debate I was asked what was core or central to Christian belief and practice. All I could think of was two words “the cross”.
There are of course many ways to answer this question. I might have said, “God is love”, or “following Christ” or “loving God, neighbour and self” or “embracing the Kingdom of God”. Christian faith is multifaceted and sometimes it’s not helpful to try and reduce Christianity to a single focus or definition. However, I continue to remain convinced that at the very core, the very heart of Christianity, is the cross. I have held on to this conviction because in Leon Morris’ words “the cross dominates the New Testament”.
Paul puts it this way in 1 Corinthians 15: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for your sins, in accordance with the Scriptures, he was buried and raised on the third day.”
Moreover, in the life and teachings of Jesus we see the same emphasis and focus on the cross. In a confrontation with Peter (Matthew 16), the protective disciple wants Jesus to avoid or bypass the cross. Jesus in response makes it very clear that his mission and ministry are centred on the cross. There is no gospel, no good news apart from the cross. Indeed, the cross transforms everything.
The message and mission of the early church was unambiguous, Jesus had died and Jesus was risen from the dead. This seismic truth became the underlining theme of baptism and Holy Communion. The suffering and triumph of Christ was the strong chorus line of their praise and proclamation. The cross opens up many windows for us to see the depth of God’s love, the depravity of human sin, the holiness of God’s grace, the extravagance of God’s forgiveness and the rich hope eternal life.
If we miss the message of the cross we miss out on what is most glorious and life changing to our faith. We are at our core a community that sits beneath the cross and is humbled, renewed and empowered by what God did there.
Easter is coming soon. May we all find the time and space to make the cross core to our being.
Rev Steve Francis
Moderator of the Uniting Church WA
Top image: Rev Steve Francis with Carol Mitchell, Justice, Ecology and Development Office at the Catholic Archdiocese of Perth, at the RenewWA launch in Cottesloe this February. The Uniting Church WA has joined others in signing a statement calling on the State Government for renewable energy in WA. Click here for more.