Why do you go to church?
Take a moment to review why in the world you bother. And let me see if I get this straight: You go, giving time out of your busy schedules to come together in mass quantities. You sit together on relatively uncomfortable benches. Sitting. Standing. Sitting. Standing. You fuss with your children, trying to keep them quiet so as not to disturb the folks around you. Most put on your Sunday best.
Think about it … You worship to sing praises to a God whom you have never seen. You worship a Savior whose voice your ears have never heard. (…)
Not only that, but every other week you practice what appears to be self-professed cannibalism. You claim to eat the very body and drink the very blood of a first-century Palestinian Jew.
And to top it off, scattered throughout your place of gathering are predominant artifacts of a cruel and grotesque instrument of torture, mutilation, and death. And yet you have placed this front and center.
So what brings you to worship?
Faith, you say? Show it to me, that I might test it, put it under a microscope, and break down its molecular structure. Show it to me, that I might touch it with my hands, see it with my eyes. Prove it, I say. Prove it! Can you do it?
“The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).
But to those who worship in this house, in His name, and under our cross, we know that we are saved by God’s grace, and the message of the cross is power. Thus, as we sit beneath the cross of Jesus, what is it that we see?
The Lenten cross is not an empty cross. It’s occupied. It is owned by a man of meager means. Many gathered around Jesus on that bleak Friday had come to know who He was, many have come to know what He had done, but by high noon, most were unsure why He was hanging there.
What I see
So … what do you see?
I see His sacred, wounded head. His hair matted down and covering His eyes (…) They say that the eyes are the window to the soul, and His soul—by His very eyes—was bleeding anguish.
I see His hands. They are restrained to the tree by means of cold and hard nails (…) Were these not the same hands that took little children into His arms to bless them? And these hands, did they not touch the blind eyes and the deaf ears and make them hear? (…) These were His hands—powerful, healing, forgiving, creating. I see these same hands closing into sleep the eyes of the first man, and mystically reaching into that man’s side, and from Adam’s rib forming the beautiful and magnificent being called “woman.”
I see His side. But from it, I do not see life or creation. I see death and destruction. I see a spear, and a pouring out of blood and of water.
When Adam and Eve fell from grace, was it not God Himself who slay a beast of the field to clothe the man and woman in their shame (Genesis 3:21)? When I see the cross, I see that we have chosen to not pay God that same respect. I see God naked on a tree.
I see His feet. The precious feet of the Lord. The feet which walked on water. And traveled around Galilee healing and blessing.
Is that one nail or two hammered through His feet and into the cross? I think it matters not, for what constrains His feet, what binds them up, is not what I see.
My eyes see nails, and a spear, and a bloody crown. My eyes see agony, and affliction, and pain.
But my faith sees so much more than these.
What faith sees
My faith knows this is the God of heaven and earth dying on a cross. My faith trusts His love, and knows of His power—which can raise the dead, and heal the sick, and cast out demons, and forgive the sins of the most vile of sinners.
And my faith asks: What holds those hands there? What keeps those feet from “walking on water?” My God says to my heart but one word:
Do you see it? To those without faith, I guess it’s pretty silly. For what they see with their eyes is all they believe.
But to you and I, our eyes are the windows to our souls, and our souls have been saved. So when we sit beneath the cross of Jesus, our eyes see pain and death, but our souls see love and life. And this sight brings power. The power of God.
The cross does not save you
This old, rugged cross is perhaps the most infamous of all cruel and unusual punishments. It is the emblem of suffering and shame. But the cross itself, this empty piece of scabrous wood, the cross does not save you—it is the man who hung from it for six hours one Friday morning. It is not the cross that has power; it is the message of the cross that holds the power.
When you see the cross, in its shame and in its glory, what message do you see? Love. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16).
The mere fact that you worship proves at least one thing: You don’t mind being a little foolish. You see with your heart what most cannot see with their eyes—and this moves you to rejoice.
If it stops with my eyes, if I am content with only what I see, then I must ask myself: Do I really understand what I see? If I truly believe in my soul what I see with my heart, then my mouth and my tongue can only do but one thing: Follow.
And if I believe in the love of God for the world, then even nails shouldn’t be able to restrain me from sharing what I see.
Caption: Crucifix at Historic Trinity, Detroit. Photo by Seth Hinz/Michigan District, LCMS