Jonathan W. Rusnak
It is Lent. It is a time to focus on the cross of Jesus Christ. But what are we seeing when we look at the cross? How are we to receive it, meditate on it and use it in Lent and in life?
It was Lent 1519, when Martin Luther wrote “A Meditation on Christ’s Passion” (LW 42:3–14). There, Luther proposed that Christians first see the cross as the punishment for their sin, and second, that they see the cross as the pattern for their life.
First and foremost, Christians see the cross as the punishment for their sin. Luther wrote, “They contemplate Christ’s passion aright who view it with a terror-stricken heart and a despairing conscience,” because they know they deserve the cross. But Luther went on to write, “After man has thus become aware of his sin and is terrified in his heart, he must watch that sin does not remain in his conscience, for this would lead to sheer despair . . . we must pour this sin back on [Christ] and free our conscience of it.” So, the cross is Christ’s cross. It is His suffering, His work, and His gift to sinners. By faith in the crucified Christ, sinners are reconciled to God and are free from His condemnation (2 Cor. 5:16–21; Rom. 8:1).
But Christians also see the cross as the pattern for their life. Luther wrote, “After your heart has thus become firm in Christ, and love, not fear of pain, has made you a foe of sin, then Christ’s passion must from that day on become a pattern for your entire life. Henceforth you will have to see his passion differently. Until now we regarded it as a sacrament which is active in us while we are passive, but now we find that we too must be active.” When Satan tempts, pride swells, lust wants its way, hate invades, distress dominates, suffering strikes, and occasions for service and love to neighbors arise, the Christian dies to self and lives to God after the pattern of Christ as the Spirit imprints and impresses the cross on them (Mark 8:27–38; Rom. 8:13; Gal. 4:19).
Good Friday gave way to Easter Sunday. Life under the cross is life eternal. In Lent and in life, the cross is Christ’s gift and our pattern until that Day of Resurrection (Rom. 6:1–14; 8:18–39).