by Will Searcy
We are already halfway through Lent, which means Easter will be here before we know it. While our minds may wander to thoughts of food and family, parties and planning, we must also focus on what makes this joyous occasion possible. Without Good Friday, there is no Easter Sunday, and without Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross, there would be no resurrection, no ascension into Heaven, and no eternal life in God’s Kingdom for any of us. It was all made possible by that selfless act, by Jesus resisting the Earthly desire to avoid the pain and torture of his bodily death and instead accepting the cup God had placed before Him for the salvation of the world.
Down where I live, there is a popular bumper sticker that comes to mind in pondering Jesus’s actions. While what he did on the cross is a mystery beyond all human understanding, this bumper sticker is simple. It shows three symbols: a cross, then an equal sign, then a heart. The message does not require its recipient to speak any particular language, to have any skill in code breaking, or even to be literate. And yet, the message is clear and profound. It sums up the heart of that most selfless act on the cross, that Jesus would give his own life out of love for all of us, even in his innocence and in our guilt. Of course, Jesus said as much in John, chapter 5:
“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 5:13)
Jesus’s act on the cross was all about His love for us. God Almighty humbled Himself to take human form so that He could be spit on, derided, mocked, scorned, abused, tortured, and executed all so that He could save the very souls of his mockers, his scorners, his abusers, his torturers, and his executioners. It takes such incredible humility to be able to love the way Jesus does. It takes incredible humility to be willing to lay down one’s life for another, because in doing so, one must recognize that someone else is more important than he. Sometimes, this does not even seem just. I look at Jesus, fully human and fully God, laying down His life for my own, and I cannot help but think that was light-years away from an even trade. But, the point of Jesus’s sacrifice was not to enforce worldly justice, but to introduce a new law, one higher than the laws of justice. It was to offer the world the Heavenly Law of Love, and the essences of this law are mercy, forgiveness, charity, and sacrifice.
This leads to an undeniable conclusion. If the bumper sticker “cross equals love” is true, then its inverse must also be equally true. In mathematics, the symmetric property of equality holds that reversing the order of an equation does not change the value. In other words, if 2+2=4, then 4=2+2. So, if “Cross Equals Love” is true, then “Love Equals Cross” must undeniably and absolutely also be true.
Of course, this keeps with what Jesus said in John 5 – that His sacrifice on the cross was the greatest love there is. And, He did not come down and bear the burden of that sacrifice just to prove a point. He did so to show us the nature of God and of love and to command us to do the same. In the verse just previous to John 5:13, Jesus says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 5:12) He continues on to conclude in John 5:17, “I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”
Put another way: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24)
As we continue through Lent, let us remember that now is the time for self-reflection as we prepare for the greatest gift we have or will ever receive. Now is a time to subject our own selfish desires to their own deaths and to take up our own crosses of self-sacrifice for the love and benefit of others. We are not meant to mope around in foul moods over all we have had to forfeit. Rather, we must willingly (and dare I say joyfully) release our desires so that we can live for the desire of something truly greater. As St. Francis of Assisi said,
“O divine master grant that I may
not so much seek to be consoled as to console
to be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to eternal life”