FOREVER TRIUMPHANT, Day 8—Lenten Devotional
And when the sixth hour (noon) had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour (3 PM). And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabactani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Mark 33-38
The victory that Christians enjoy has two essential aspects: 1. It is a victory that was already won by Jesus by his death on the cross, a death that opened forever and for all people to enter into the presence and the family of Almighty God. 2. It is no easy victory, but one achieved only through a terribly traumatic event, the kind of event that has left a scar on all the Disciples of Jesus ever since.
Is it possible that any genuine victory can be achieved at such a price? Is not the death of Jesus so terrible that no amount of good that could be gained by it can be in any way justified? If I consider the cross in any detail at all, my impulse is to say that there had to be an easier way. But if the witness to Jesus of St. Paul and all four of the Gospels is at all reliable, then Jesus himself felt that the cross was necessary. All five of these witnesses (and the author of Hebrews) in very different ways say that Jesus accepted the cross voluntarily as the foreseen and proper culmination of His ministry. Jesus of Nazareth believed that it was absolutely necessary for “the son of man to suffer.” No heroic sacrifice on the battlefield, no organ donation, no destitute mother starving herself for her children, no doctor allowing himself to be infected to find the cure to a disease can in any way compare to this. We dare not believe that Jesus was mistaken about this—if Jesus is to be believed at all; indeed, if any sacrifice is to be worth anything; we must believe that Jesus’s death was not meaningless. It must be a victory, and the Resurrection confirms it.
This is a costly victory. It left marks on the hands, the feet, and the side of Jesus. And it left marks on us. In some measure we relive the trauma every time we celebrate Communion. If the cross of Jesus has won a permanent victory for us, why is it necessary to continually relive its unpleasantness? Because only such a victory—one arising from abject defeat, unbelievable pain, and utter loss—could keep us from becoming the arrogant, insensitive, and uncaring people that “winners” normally do become. Only this kind of victory could bring us closer to the heart of God.
Prayer: Dear God,
May the utter loss of the cross be for me the only ground of victory in life. May the blood that spilled from Jesus, represented faithfully in the communion cup, serve to cleanse the triumph so purchased from being polluted by my selfishness. In this sense, may I and all that I hope to accomplish and to become be cleansed in the blood of Jesus. Amen.