‘For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.’
Paul – 1 Corinthians 2:2
‘The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.’
John the Evangelist – Rev. 13:8
In the small Brethren Assembly in Inverness, Scotland where I spent the formative spiritual years of my youth there was a banner proudly displayed on the wall at the front of the church. It read – ‘We Preach Christ Crucified’.
I have wandered far and wide among many religious groups since these days – and seen many different slogans and mission statement – all good and relevant. However, the banner on display at Ebenezer Gospel Hall was not among them. Of course even the very name of the church, ‘Ebenezer’, is now out of vogue – few knowing the meaning of the biblical word (stone of help) – which once adorned so many Brethren Assemblies. It has been removed now from most, as these churches have morphed, the ones that have not closed, in to more modern entities using more commonly understood titles. That is not meant as any criticism, far from it, – simply an observation of fact.
However, while names, of cultural necessity, have changed, sadly, in many more places the centrality of ‘Christ and him crucified’, has also often been replaced by a more palatable ‘gospel’ with the message of self help, self betterment and the offer of health, wealth and happiness, I cannot help but feel we have, to a great extent, wandered far from the centrality of the core of it all – ‘Christ and him crucified’.
I openly confess I too have wandered – taken up at times with, as I have said, an easier, more palatable version of Christianity – one more in tune with our culture. Yes, to be sure it had and has parts of the truth and good truth at that – but the central elements, to which the cross of Jesus draws us, self emptying, self sacrifice, self death, and abandonment to the will of The Other, are, all too often, ignored in place of all the ‘good stuff’ we are told Jesus can do for us.
My genuine fear is that if we do not recover the heart of the cross we will be ill equipped to face the days to come. The cult of the personality, in the world of evangelical and charismatic Christianity is already crumbling before our eyes – and thousands have given up the faith when they have seen their heros fall. The once dominant denominations of our land are likewise teetering on the brink of disaster and are fast becoming irrelevant to those in search of truth.
I have honestly wondered how the Apostle Paul could say to a dysfunction church living in a dysfunctional society that would one day implode, just as ours certainly will if we continue on our current trajectory – ‘I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.’ It seems, at face value, to be such a simplistic statement – but yet it contains within it the unfathomable vastness of divine and eternal truth – so much so that I am convinced we will never, in this life anyway, plum its depths, height and width. No wonder Paul exclaimed –
‘Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!’
And yet, as a child who steps from the shoreline into the vast ocean, can appreciate something of its immanence, reality, and effect, although he or she cannot comprehend its boundlessness – so too can we, when we stand, in spirit, at the cross of the Lamb, ‘slain from the foundation of the world’. He is the One who is still existent in the eternal day (Revelation 5:6), and present in our here and now – still bleeding, still suffering, still giving, still loving. And it is only as we stand here and in spirit experience that we too are – ‘crucified with Christ’ (Galatians 2:20) – that we can face an uncertain future – secure in the knowledge that, as Jesus has promised -‘Because I live, you will live also. (John 14:19)
Some think that the cross was an afterthought in the mind of God – a last minute rescue operation after the failure of Eden. However, this is a misconception at best and a deception at worst. If indeed The Lamb was, in some mysterious sense that we find difficult to comprehend, ‘slain from the foundation of the world’ – then the cross reveals something of the essence of God himself. In other words, as we stand in wonder before the cross we are gazing in to the very the heart of God.
So I personally have come back to stand at the foot of the cross. Here I intend to stay – to gaze, to wonder, to contemplate and tentatively, with Grace and Mercy, to live out, with the help and empowerment of the Holy Spirit, the life of our crucified God.
‘Love has the character of the cross. The power, fire, and nature of love consist in the fact that love has the character of the cross; and there is no love that does not have the character of the cross. The cross is the sacrificial characteriser of love, for love is sacrifice, self-surrender, self-renunciation, voluntary self-depletion for the sake of the loved one. Without sacrifice there is no reception, no meeting, no life in another and for another. There is no bliss of love except in sacrificial self-depletion, which is rewarded by an answering fulfilment. The cross is the reciprocity of love, but it is also reciprocity itself. There is no path of love, of its knowledge of wisdom, except that which has the character of the cross. The Most Holy Trinity is the eternal cross as the sacrificial reciprocity of the Three; It is one life produced by voluntary self-surrender, by trinitarian self-renunciation, by fusion in the divine ocean of sacrificial love.’
Fr. Sergius Nikolaevich Bulgakov (1871– 1944)