Friends, in today’s Gospel, Jesus prophesies his Crucifixion and Resurrection: “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.”
What enabled the first Christians to hold up the cross, to sing its praises, to wear it as a decoration, is the fact that God raised up and ratified precisely this crucified Jesus. “You killed him, but God raised him up.” Therefore, God was involved in this terrible thing; God was there, working out his salvific purposes.
But what does this mean? There have been numerous attempts throughout the Christian centuries to name the salvific nature of the cross. Let me offer just one take on it. It became clear to the first Christians that somehow, on that terrible cross, sin had been dealt with. The curse of sin had been removed, taken care of. On that terrible cross, Jesus functioned as the “Lamb of God,” sacrificed for sin.
Does this mean that God the Father is a cruel taskmaster demanding a bloody sacrifice so that his anger might be appeased? No; Jesus’ crucifixion was the opening up of the divine heart so that we could see that no sin of ours could finally separate us from the love of God.