The Cross Alone is Our Theology

By Pastor Emeritus John-Paul Meyer

February 25, 2018

After a conversation with one of our members on “what he thought about all this corpus talk,” Pastor Meyer wrote this little piece. I pass this along to you with his permission. -Pastor Peperkorn

Luther wrote in the Heidelberg Disputation: “The cross alone is our theology.” He believed one knows God not through works but through suffering, the cross, and faith.

The message of the cross is a three-note chord. Christ lived, died, and rose again. The question is how do we best proclaim this three-note chord? Should we wear the crucifix and remember the death? Should we wear a cross and remember Christ’s victory over the cross? Which note do we emphasize?

I am drawn to the crucifix because of the message it gives me: to follow Christ is to empty myself, even to the point of death, if that is required of me. I am not part of the church triumphant, as much as I’d like to think I am. I am part of the church militant. I am in the trenches. This is the part of my journey where I die to self. That’s just the way it is. So the crucifix reminds me that Christ actually died for me and that I am now called to die as well.

The empty cross is beautiful, too, contrary to what some suspect.

Even so, I think there is a real danger in forgetting the cost of redemption and the cost of discipleship. An empty cross all too easily becomes a piece of jewelry, a pop-culture icon. An empty cross doesn’t demand that our minds reflect on the sobering reality of Christ’s death. The empty cross conveniently allows us to gloss over Good Friday and Holy Saturday and go straight to Easter morning. We can lift our hands for blessings and name-and-claim our victory, and barely give a thought to the message of the cross.

The empty cross fits all too neatly in American culture. Jesus is my Lord and Savior. I claim that. He paid the price. I claim that. He wants to bless me. I claim that too. Here’s my list of wants, Lord. Ready, Go! Americanized pseudo-Christianity in a nutshell.

Christ has died. I must die, figuratively and literally. Christ has risen. If I die with Christ, I will be raised with Christ. Christ will come again. If I die with Christ and am raised with Christ, then I will rise to meet Him when He comes in glory.

Our Lord didn’t make the mistake of focusing on the victory before Calvary. He knew the victory was His, but death on a cross would come first.

Daily, we must die to self. We must be willing to go to the cross as long as there is breath. Our three-note-chord isn’t complete. We hear faint hints of victory now and then. But we must avoid the childlike desire to pound out the victory note like it is the only note on the piano.

Why do I prefer the crucifix? It humbly reminds me of the price Jesus Christ paid for my sin, and it soberly reminds me that I must empty myself for Him and carry my cross daily, until I see Him face-to-face.

For now, there is a reminder. The cross of Christ. Not an empty cross, but a rugged old cross where a body is pierced and bleeding for my sin and the sin of the whole world. The crucifix. It contains the message that will lead me to my eternal home. I must be willing to die. For it is in dying that we are raised to new life.

Finally, the crucifix is needed to teach about death…death of the body. Our culture wants to ignore death, make a friend of death. People no longer die. They pass on or expire. We do not want to think of the body that has suffered and died. We want to think of the person being in a better place. We do not want funerals. We want life celebrations. We do not write and print obituaries. We have life tributes.

The crucifix reminds me Jesus the Christ died. He died before He rose. Day one out of the box I am dying. I will suffer in this body and die as well before the victory. The crucifix emphasizes the first two notes of the cord as we await the last note to sound.

Rev. John-Paul Meyer

Pastor Emeritus

Holy Cross Lutheran Church

Rocklin, California



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