”˜For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.’ Paul’s classic challenge to the wisdom of the world echoes down the centuries and confronts us once more as we come face to face once more with the great events which not only stand at the heart of our faith but are etched into our geography and architecture, as this great building makes clear. One of the paradoxical signs of the continuing and urgent relevance of the message and meaning of the cross is that it is once more under attack from several directions; and we who today declare that we will be true to our ordination vows, and who will this evening and tomorrow commemorate those high and holy, disturbing and decisive events in the story of Jesus himself, must take a deep breath, summon up our courage, and learn again what it means to discover the wisdom of God in what the world counts foolishness, the power of God in what the world counts weakness.
The first challenge comes from within, in the temptation to water down the message of the cross so that it becomes less offensive, more palatable to the ordinary sensible mind. We must of course acknowledge that many, alas, have offered caricatures of the biblical theology of the cross. It is all too possible to take elements from the biblical witness and present them within a controlling narrative gleaned from somewhere else, like a child doing a follow-the-dots puzzle without paying attention to the numbers and producing a dog instead of a rabbit. This is what happens when people present over-simple stories, as the mediaeval church often did, followed by many since, with an angry God and a loving Jesus, with a God who demands blood and doesn’t much mind whose it is as long as it’s innocent. You’d have thought people would notice that this flies in the face of John’s and Paul’s deep-rooted theology of the love of the triune God: not ”˜God was so angry with the world that he gave us his son’ but ”˜God so loved the world that he gave us his son’. That’s why, when I sing that interesting recent song and we come to the line, ”˜And on the cross, as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied’, I believe it’s more deeply true to sing ”˜the love of God was satisfied’, and I commend that alteration to those of you who sing that song, which is in other respects one of the very few really solid recent additions to our repertoire.
But once we’ve got rid of the caricature, we are ready to face the reality, the reality of the foolishness and weakness, but in fact the wisdom and the power, of the cross of Jesus Christ.