Years ago I was taught the story of the cross of crucifixion on which Jesus died on this so-called Good Friday nearly 2000ish years ago. The story came with a picture. It featured two giant walls separating God in heaven and humanity here on earth. Between these walls was a deep pit into which humanity would fall upon our earthly death into this chamber of horrors we call hell. Flames were bursting up and people therein were crying out in anguish as part of their eternal conscious torture for having sinned while on earth. Meanwhile, God placed a giant cross that was pictured as a bridge above this pit of hell that would connect heaven and earth and allow us to cross safely to this “other side” upon our earthly death.
Now as I recall this picture and the word-story that came with it, there was an implicit toll collected at the earthly side of this bridge. It amounted to a set of passwords broken down into three essential phases of what some Christians called “the sinner’s prayer.” In approximate sequence the prayer went as follows: “God, I am sorry for my sins. Thank you for sending Jesus to die on the cross for my sins. Please save me by his blood shed for me on that cross.” I was inclined at the time to think I could even get the sequence wrong and still find my password accepted enough to open the toll gate and let me across into heaven as opposed to being dropped into the raging inferno of hell as punishment for my earthly sins.
To say that I bought this story is something of an understatement. I actually taught this story to others.
And then I came to my senses.
This story is nowhere to be found in the Bible. No. Not even in the so-called Romans Road as presented by Paul. It is imagined to be in the Bible by those who first were told the story and then were led to find the exact verses in Romans, Hebrews, or elsewhere that would support their image, a kind of public discourse to support their privately assumed narrative. Using a different set of imaginings, we can take Paul at his word in Romans 10:13 when he says we are saved by calling upon the name of the Lord. Period. Password already remembered by default.
So why the cross then?
Obviously, it depends on who you ask, even in scripture. Among the original disciples present to hear Jesus tell about himself and his own purpose here on earth, none apparently understood him to ever say he was to die on the cross for our sins so we can go to heaven when we die. Luke goes to great lengths to write about Jesus and his disciples going to Jerusalem, noting as early as 9:22 that there he would be killed and would rise again on the 3rd day. Trouble is that in that same setting Jesus spoke of everyone who followed him as having his own cross to also bear, his only point being that to not lose our own lives in that way for him would interfere with our being saved. Which does nothing to square with the later words of I Peter 3:8, or Paul’s words in Romans 4:25. Either the Gospelists skipped over what Jesus said himself about dying for our sins or else Jesus frankly didn’t say it at all or didn’t deem it very important if true at all. Jesus is quoted as saying other things about why he came to earth, but coming to die for our sins so we could go to heaven instead of hell?
If Jesus, being God, gets to tell his own story, perhaps we should look then for other possible reasons for his death. Possibilities Jesus may well have left up to us to discuss and resolve.
Is it possible, I wonder, that the bridge imagery for the cross can tell a different story? Can the separation between ourselves and God that we often call sin be compared to the disconnect between our bodies and our souls? Could it be that our minds play a critical role as intermediary between our known for certain bodies and our fearfully unknown, uncertain souls (sometimes regarded as the Spirit world)? Could the mind in siding with the body answer the physical and emotional stress in this world with the building of a wall of protection seeking its own control on the body’s behalf? And could that wall be the great disconnect, then, between the body that emotes our fear and desire into our minds as a cry for help…………..and the soul that instead empowers with God’s indwelling presence? Could that wall of protection placed between body and soul as the mind’s own survival plan be ironically the very thing that brings death instead? Could it represent even the way in which we lose our lives attempting to control or save them ourselves?
Just supposing such possibilities exist, and supposing the mind has the critical role in causing sin and death despite its good intentions of protecting the body’s known desires and fears quite apart from the soul’s unknowns and uncertainties. Then what?
How about “then Jesus?”
Jesus, being for me at least God’s body in relation to God’s own mind and soul (let’s call this trinity the Son, Father, and Holy Spirit), appeals to his own mind as a son appeals to his father when afraid and seeking protection. In his Gethsemane prayer, Jesus emoted as any one of us might have done in the face of crucifixion. In asking for this cup to pass from him, he may as well have been asking his Father / mind to build a wall. Protect me from this unknown on the other side. Disconnect me from the uncertainty of this “other” in that near-term future.
Only there’s more to the Son’s prayer to the Father in the garden. Right? There’s the part about “not my will but yours be done.” After which the Father, God’s mind, takes down the wall and crafts it into a bridge. A cross for Christ to use in reconnecting with the Holy Spirit. See also Luke 23:46 — Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.
For me this begs one last set of questions: is the cross really a bridge after all but with a very different story behind it? A cross that allows our own scared bodies to trust our own sacred souls? Trusts the wall to come down and a bridge, a cross, to go up? Trusts the sacred soul to empower even the scared body? Trusts perfect love to cast out all fear? Trusts love to forgive sin? All sins? Trusts atonement to replace brokenness, connection to replace our disconnect prior to that cross?
This is another story of the cross. Call it a re-storying about why this day, Good Friday, is different from any other day. It’s also about a bridge. Also about re-storation. Unless your own mind tells you that’s impossible.