By Douglas M. Graham ’86, D.Min., Vice President for Spiritual Life
It would be impossible for us to fully comprehend what it would’ve been like at foot of Cross. The only disciple who was there was John—the disciple who was Jesus’ most intimate disciple. In his gospel, John would write: “Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary (the wife of Clopas), and Mary Magdalene.” (John 19:25)
So, at the foot of the Cross, it was John, Mary (mother of Jesus), Mary’s sister (Salome), Mary (wife of Clopas), and Mary Magdalene. They would have rather been at any other place, but they chose to be at the foot of the Cross. Why?
Some people have an unusual interest in violence; others a deep compassion for those who’ve been violated. Crime scenes have always attracted crowds. At the foot of the Cross it was no different. There were those who were present because of their blood-thirst for the violent. But John the disciple and the four women were there because of their compassion for the One who had been violated.
What no one knew …
However, what no one knew was that something significant was occurring. Something was being made ready; something was being accomplished; something was about to burst forth in victory. However, in that moment, at the foot of the Cross everything was incredibly cold, dark, and oppressive.
Every spring, nature walks us through a similar annual experience. Long winter months leave behind nothing but a colorless environment. Vibrant fall colors have long since passed, resulting in trees that look like mere skeletons with spindly branches. “Will spring ever come?” we say under our breath, even though we know it always does! And when spring arrives, seemingly overnight, buds and blossoms appear and the color of life appears in our trees and gardens, and our once brown lawns begin to reflect the emerald color of growth. Taking in the fresh signs and smells of new life, we rejoice that spring has arrived.
Why do we regularly visit the cross?
As Christians, we are familiar with the meaning of the Cross. However, there is increased ignorance in the world today about what Jesus suffered on the Cross two thousand years ago. This is illustrated by a story that a woman told her pastor of a recent experience that shocked her of the growing unawareness of what Jesus accomplished on the Cross. She was visiting a jewelry store looking for a necklace. She asked the clerk to show her what he had in gold crosses. The clerk then asked her, “Do you want a plain one, or one with a little man on it?”
We visit, and re-visit, and keep re-visiting the Cross because the Cross is a bridge—a bridge that connects two things together. If the womb of Mary was the bridge that connected God to our humanity, it was the Cross that connected God to our fallen and sinful humanity.
And at the foot of the Cross, the price paid for bridging into our sinful state was gruesome and utterly devastating. And we visit the Cross, and re-visit the Cross, and keep re-visiting the Cross because through its violence, spring was officially on its way!
But why so much blood?
We know that physically blood is our body’s most important life source. But when we see blood it usually means something is wrong—blood is not meant for sight. Yet, we know the Bible refers a lot to blood, specifically, the shedding of blood. We tolerate the shedding of animal blood, but not the shedding of human blood. Yet, at the foot of the Cross, there was blood, a lot of blood; enough blood to trigger quick awareness that something must have gone wrong. But in fact, nothing went wrong! Instead, everything was being made right.
The blood-stained Cross and the blood-saturated soil were the hints of spring, that something had been made right and that new life was about to emerge. What appeared to be something that had gone horribly wrong, was in reality something that had gone perfectly right. At the foot of the Cross, what appeared to be a place of doom and disaster, had actually become a place of safety, refuge, hope, healing, security, love, and forgiveness.
The safest place in the world
Two men were hunting in the wide-open lands of southeastern Georgia. In a distance, they could see a plume of smoke, then within minutes they heard the crackling of a grass fire. Suddenly, the wind shifted and now the wildfire was clearly coming their way, and fast! They were miles from shelter and they had no chance of out-running the speed of the swirling flames.
Searching through his pockets, one of the hunters found a book of matches and immediately set the grass beneath his feet on fire, and as quickly as he could, he extended the circle of fire as much as he possibly could. In just minutes, he and his partner were standing in the middle their burned-over patch of soil and all they could do was wait for the approaching wildfire. When it arrived, they covered their eyes and mouths with their handkerchiefs, then they braced themselves. The wild fire was more violent than they expected, but miraculously, it seemed to go right around them leaving them completely unharmed.
How? Simple—fire cannot pass where fire has already passed.
So, why are we at the foot of the cross again?
We visit the Cross regularly because fire cannot pass where fire has already passed. The writer of Hebrews declared, “Jesus sacrificed for their sins once for all when He offered Himself.” (Hebrews 7:27) Later, the writer reiterated that “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Hebrews 10:10)
What was done and accomplished on the Cross was a “once for all,” perfectly planned, perfectly executed, perfectly accomplished work of grace! Wrath for sin, like the wild grass fire, doesn’t touch us because fire cannot pass where fire has already passed. Punishment and wages for sin cannot pass where it has already passed when our sins are placed upon Jesus.
Like a burned over patch of soil that becomes the safest place in a wildfire, the blood-soaked soil at the foot of the Cross is our most safe and secure place in a world of wildfires. The hymn writer described it well in “Calvary’s Love”:
Jesus, man of sorrows, Jesus Prince of peace
On the cross He suffered, for our sins’ release
Bearing all our burdens, sharing all our pain
covering all, covering all,
covering all, the world with grace!