Westminster Cathedral is one of the largest churches in central London. As you enter the building you notice the darkness of the unfinished ceiling, and the altar in the distance. But dominating everything, hanging high above the altar, is a huge painted crucifix.
Here is the figure of Jesus, with his arms outstretched, nailed to a cross, his head bent to one side at the moment of his death. It’s a powerful symbol of how the death of Jesus is at the very heart of Christianity.
Christians believe that something has gone wrong with the world, and only God can put it right. Things are not the way they are meant to be. Suffering, loneliness, conflict, death. There is so much good in the world, but there is so much brokenness and confusion as well.
Christians believe that Jesus gave his life for us by dying on the Cross, and then rose from the dead on the third day, in the glory of the Resurrection. His death brings us peace with God, and the hope of eternal life. It brings healing. And it brings forgiveness for what the Bible calls sin, which is all the wrong we have done and all the harm we have caused. But why did he have to die?
The Son of God became human because he wanted to be with us. He wanted to enter into the deepest reality of human experience; to share not just our joy but also our loneliness, our suffering, our darkness; so that no one, anywhere, could ever say they had been abandoned by God.
He let himself be tortured and executed like a common criminal. It was a desire to come close to all those who suffer, and lead them out to a better place.
A few years ago there was a terrible crisis in Thailand when twelve boys and their football coach became trapped in an underground cave. The tunnels had been flooded by heavy rains and the exits were blocked. It was too dangerous and too time-consuming to dig down from the surface.
The only answer was for a team of divers to go into the tunnels themselves, at great risk to their own lives. They had to find the boys, sit with them in the cave, and then lead them out, one by one.
They brought light into the darkness of the cave – and food, and blankets, and oxygen, and a video link! But they could only do this by sharing the same risks and fears as the boys. In the same way, Jesus comes to be with us. He brings light into our darkness. This is one part of the Cross.
But even more, Jesus came to give his life for us. The greatest love someone can have is to give up their life for another. We have an amazing example of this here in England.
Alban was a soldier in a Roman city near London. He had no faith, but gave shelter to a Christian priest who was being hunted down by the Roman authorities. Alban was so moved by the prayers and example of the priest that he converted to Christianity.
When the authorities caught up with them, Alban helped the priest to escape. Then he disguised himself in the cloak the priest had left, and let himself be arrested in his place, giving the priest time to get away. And when they discovered that it was in fact Alban, they interrogated him and told him to renounce his Christian faith, but he refused.
So they executed him on the top of the hill outside the city. Alban sacrificed his life out of love: love for his neighbour, and love for God.
Imagine if you discovered that you were only alive because someone had given their life for you. Well this is the reality. Jesus offered his life on the Cross for each one of us, personally. He did this out of love – love for each one of us, for you, for me. He carried on his shoulders the weight of every human sin and the burden of every human suffering.
The Cross of Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice. It undoes all the damage that has ever been done and sets us free. It was of infinite value because the one saying Yes was the Son of God. All we need to do is to unite our yes with his, and try to love him in return.
This blog is extracted from SYCAMORE: The Catholic Faith Explained.In SYCAMORE you will find answers to the most common questions about life and faith, whether you want to deepen the faith you already have or are exploring the faith for the first time.
To learn more about the Catholic faith in an approachable way, or for help passing it on to others, get your copy of SYCAMORE today.