14 September 2008 - Fr Terry Tastard

 The mystery of suffering in our world is one that we all have to grapple with. It is linked with our sense of justice and fairness. When good people suffer it seems deeply wrong; where innocent people suffer, it seems so unfair. We wish the world were otherwise, but it is not. There are ways of explaining this, but they satisfy the head, not the heart. We can hear an explanation about the necessity of general laws of physics, but that does not really help us if a bridge collapses from metal fatigue. We are left wrestling with the tragedy of individual people, and of their families. Intellectual answers do not convince. Like Job in the Old Testament, we wonder where God is in all this.

There needs to be an answer which speaks to the way that we feel. That answer is the cross. Here we see God in Christ entering into the fullness of the human condition: physical pain, emotional suffering, social exclusion. Here on the cross God is helpless. It is a stunning display of love. Christ as the fullness of God shares in our human vulnerability. As Paul's famous hymn tells us today (Philippians 2.6-11) the cross shows us God emptying himself of all stature and grandeur, stooping down, as it were, to our level, to be one with us through Christ.

The gospel (John 3.13-17) links back to that mysterious episode when the people of God journeying through the desert found themselves attacked by snakes. The bronze serpent lifted on a pole was a sign that the snakes did not have the last word. It was an affirmation of faith in God who led them still. And so we, the expanded people of God, as it were, journeying through life, find in the cross a message of hope. Yes, it tells us of human sin and suffering: the weight of human sin that Jesus bore on the cross and the suffering that he endured. But it is also a reminder that Jesus on the cross met the world's sin and defeated it.

So why do we have a crucifix rather than a plain cross? After all, Christ is no longer on the cross. He is risen from the dead, and in his self-offering to God, there is the promise of our freedom from the consequences of sin. Yet the symbol of Christ on the cross is a powerful reminder of how closely God identifies with us. It moves our hearts, not with guilt, but with thanksgiving, and the determination that, with the help of God's grace, we will seek to live a life worthy of such love.

Fr Terry Tastard is Parish Priest of Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church, Brook Green, London W6.

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