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Sunday, 17 April 2011

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The significance of the Cross

Good Friday is the day on which Christians commemorate the death of Jesus on the Cross. With Jesus' death on the cross, the cross gradually became the symbol of the Christian faith. How and why did the cross become synonymous with Christianity? During the time of Jesus, about 2,000 years ago, under the Roman imperial government, death on a cross was the way in which Romans executed thieves, robbers, rebels and other such people who became a threat to the peaceful way of life under their rule. Then why did Jesus have to undergo this sort of death?

Jesus was a Jew and lived with other Jews. During this time Jewish territory was under Roman rule, and yet Jewish leaders, while oppressing poor people, enjoyed certain privileges from the Roman colonial government. Jesus throughout his earthly ministry took the side of the poor, the oppressed, the marginalised and other such people who were isolated from society. In his teachings Jesus reminded the society of its responsibility in looking after these people and enabling them to stand on their feet.

In a way Jesus was a protester and a reformer of Judaism. His stand gradually became a threat to Jewish leaders and the Roman imperial government, and so Jewish leaders plotted to get rid of Jesus with the support of the Roman government. They succeeded in arresting Jesus with the help of Judas Iscariot, one of the disciples of Jesus. Finally they got him executed on a cross.

Jews during the time of Jesus offered animal sacrifices to get rid of their sins. Jesus taught people that one cannot get rid of sin simply by offering animals. His teaching was that true repentance guarantees salvation or liberation.

He also proclaimed that the suffering of an innocent person for the sake of others is redemptive. Jesus performed this, which is his central teaching on the cross. This is how the cross became the symbol of Christianity after Jesus was raised from the dead, since death could not confine Jesus to the grave.

It is the responsibility of Christians to follow Jesus by taking up his or her cross. Here the cross means to bear the sufferings of other people willingly.

This is what is called the Christ-centred life expected of his followers. Followers of Jesus are called to empty themselves for the growth of others. That is why Jesus said, "If you try to gain your life you will lose it, but if you lose your life for my sake you will find it".

It is said that Jesus defeated the ultimate idol, which is self, on the cross. The message of the cross for all humanity is that people are called to defeat this idol to redeem other people, so that they will have the hope of resurrection.

As we begin the Holy Week it is quite appropriate to reflect on the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus which is the central theme of Christian life. The humility and selflessness of Jesus spurs humans to be humble and self-giving.

The writer is Incumbent, Holy Emmanuel Church, Moratuwa.

 

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