This picture shows the first representation of the crucifixion that has been preserved to our days. What is interesting is that it dates back as late as the 5th century. Other Christian symbols have been preserved from the beginning of the church: the fish, the bread, etc… but no crosses or crucifixes. Why? Did it take the first Christians five centuries to discover the centrality of the cross? Did the 5th century Christians suddenly discover the importance of the crucifixion?
This representation does not pretend to innovate a symbol, it is simply a representation of a scene shown among many other scenes. In fact, the crosses are barely visible, what is shown is the crucified. Does the cross deserve to be our most outstanding symbol?
Perhaps symbols evolve and change with cultures, but the core of our faith is expressed in the gospels, which some scholars have described as accounts of the passion and resurrection, with a long introduction. Accepting that Jesus “must suffer according to the Scriptures” is an essential condition to true faith in Jesus.
The cross is not just an unfortunate episode in the life of Jesus. Jesus did not even save us “in spite” of the cross, but through His cross. Jesus was not a simple hero or martyr whose torments were an expression of their fidelity and consistency. His passion revealed a Redeemer. If the incarnation of Jesus reveals God with us; the crucifixion reveals God for us.
Jesus had been in control of His life and destiny clearly throughout His whole ministry. He decided whom to cure, where to go, what to preach, when to leave, whom to approach. He is the master. There is, however, a turning point in the life of Jesus when He was assailed by an extreme distress. In the synoptics, it happened at the Garden of Olives. The gospel of John presents this extreme distress at the beginning of the Last Supper. From then on, Jesus was passive. He would let things happen to Him. He would not run away or hide Himself. He would not defend Himself or even pray to be delivered. He allowed men to do with Him as they pleased. This was a unique moment in the history of the universe. God had become vulnerable, tragically vulnerable.
The passivity of Christ is the passion of God who decided to be touched and hurt by the sin of the world. Christmas makes full sense only in the light of Good Friday. God’s incarnation was not to holiday with humans. God became man to allow Himself to be touched by man’s rejection. Capital punishment is simply that, the expulsion of a man from the community. The cross is man’s way to tell God, “we don’t want you with us”. The Son of God attracted upon Himself the ultimate expression of man’s sinful condition.
An omnipotent God could be totally dispassionate about man’s disobedience; a compassionate God cannot but implicate Himself in man’s self-destruction to the point of taking the effects of this destruction upon Himself. Christmas is God accompanying man; Good Friday is God substituting man as a true victim of human sins. And all this is not a symbolic ritual sacrifice; it is pure crude history, a naked fact. God came to His creation and was tragically rejected in the nastiest possible way.
From now on, sin cannot say anything else. The human power to hurt cannot become more powerful. It has been exhausted. Of course, we are still free to hurt ourselves and others, and these hurts will be real and consistently have tragic effects in our lives. But from now on, these sins are only mere echoes of the main cry “Crucify him!” Sin had spoken its loudest.
However, is this the last word?