Americans weren't always this good at learning lessons from acts of violence and murder. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 put a long term paralyzant in our blood. It was weeks before we were able to look away from the images of smoke and sorrow long enough to ask ourselves, "what can we learn from this? How can we better ourselves and the world in response to this tragedy?"
But now we're seasoned lesson-learning veterans. The day after the shootings in Aurora, CO and Newtown, CT, we asked what we could do to reduce gun violence and to treat mental illness. As ambulances were still rushing people to Boston hospitals, we could already see silver linings in the smoke clouds as we praised the helpers, the brave ones who rushed into the carnage to aid their neighbors. Even before we knew how many people died in this evil act, we had focused our eyes on the good acts of humanity, desiring to make more of that goodness manifest in our lives.
We've been well trained since September 11, 2001. Now, when tragedy strikes, we only look at the violence and murder for a moment. Then we move on to the more important thing-making the world a better place in response.
I think this is how American Pop-Christianity views the cross. The Crucifixion of Jesus Christ was a tragic event. It's just so utterly sad and shameful that Jesus had to die for our sins. But now that we've spent a moment looking at all that violence and murder, now it's time to move on to the more important thing. So how do we make our lives better in response to that tragedy?
As evidence, I submit the mission statement of one of the country's largest congregations:
"As a community, we’re devoted to building an engaged, passionate, spiritually healthy community of people that makes up [our congregation]. We’re also devoted to engaging and impacting one another and others, believing that Jesus himself set an example of service and that we’ve been given the responsibility to follow it."
And if you'd like the point illustrated in picture form, here's the same thing from another mega-church:
These aren't egregious examples. Hop on the webbernet, check out the mission statement of the congregation down the road from you, and you will probably find something exactly like this, something that basically states your journey starts with Jesus. First look at his cross. Then move on to figuring out how you should live in response to that cross. Our congregation is here to help you do that.
So do these congregations deny that Jesus died for their sins? No. But that death, that bloodshed, it's not the epicenter of the faith. It's not the substance of their preaching and teaching. Rather, the cross was that tragic event that should set you on the path of self-discovery. The cross was that brutal act of violence meant to inspire you to better yourself and the world. Stare at the carnage for a day, maybe two, but then move on. Because, just like the children of Sandy Hook, Jesus will have died in vain if we don't learn the right lessons.
But the cross is its own lesson And we don't move on from it. Jesus didn't die so that we could better the world. Jesus died to save the world. Jesus died to give us life, to give us the love of God.
And that's what the Church is for-to give us the things that Jesus won for us in his death. The Church makes disciples by giving us the cross found in baptism and teaching. The Church nourishes us with the same body and blood that were broken and shed on Calvary. The Church's mission is not to engage and impact. Her mission is to put the cross of Jesus on your flesh, in your eyes, your ears, your mouth.
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." Hebrews 12:1-2
"And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." 1 Corinthians 2:1-2
The cross is not 9/11. It's not the Sandy Hook shooting or the Boston Marathon bombing. There is no moving on from the cross. Because, unlike the death of everyone else, the death of Jesus Christ is life.