Of course, the cross had to go – even at great expense to the college.
Just beyond the Rochdale canal nestled De La Salle college in its beautiful grounds, a RC teacher training college. And set on the highest point stood the splendid chapel, built in 1964, in the style of the Metropolitan cathedral here in Liverpool.
Atop this imposing edifice stood a huge steel cross, as if Jesus were laying claim to the whole campus.
Some 25 years ago, not long before I moved from Rochdale, the college closed and the entire site sold to the local authority to become a sixth form college. The chapel, now deconsecrated, soon became an embarrassment.
And especially the cross. It proved an offence to the secularist mindset of the authorities. Rather than being a sign of unity and common purpose, it was now seen as a divisive religious symbol. It had to go.
For the cross offends. It always has. A four-letter word: crux – not to be used in polite company. Roman philosopher Cicero, said that no respectable person should ever have to hear it spoken.
That didn’t put the apostle Paul off. “But we preach Christ crucified,” he proudly proclaims. “A stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,” (1 Corinthians 1:23) .
Why? Because the cross, in all its horror and humiliation, is a measure of God’s love for us, each of us. Again in the words of Paul: his prayer is that we may “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (Ephesians 3:18)
One of the most powerful expositions of the cross of Jesus I ever encountered came from the renown German theologian, Jürgen Moltmann. I heard him lecture in 1988 at the Swanwick conference centre, the place some 40 years earlier where as a newly released POW he encountered Christ in a fresh way.
Essentially, he argued, such is the extent of God’s love for us and such is the extent of our sin that the cross of Jesus is simply inevitable. There could be no other solution to the dilemma of our rebellion against the God who made us. Only here could God’s love and justice intersect.
In his classic The Crucified God (1975) Moltmann writes
“God is not greater than he is in this humiliation. God is not more glorious than he is in this self-surrender. God is not more powerful than he is in this helplessness. God is not more divine than he is in this humanity. . . The Christ event on the cross is a God event. with all his being.” (page 205)
So this Good Friday we focus on the cross of Jesus as the single, most defining event in history. And we need the Holy Spirit to stir our imaginations and move our hearts as we stand at the foot of the cross – in awe and astonishment.
The hugely-influential Moravian church was birthed at such a moment, on May 20, 1719. Nicolaus Zinzendorf was doing the art galleries of Dusseldorf. One painting simply changed his life, Ecce Homo by Domenico Feti. It showed Jesus with his crown of thorns.
At the bottom of the picture, Feti had painted the words: This I have done for you. What have you done for me?
Zinzendorf was transfixed and transformed. He now realized that Jesus had died not just for the whole world but for him. And from now on he was going “to live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
For the wonder of the cross is that God waits on us, for our free decision whether to accept or reject his cross.
It may be the single, most defining event in history – but if we chose so, we can totally ignore it. And most people do. In his love for us God does not compel us to love him. Like those college authorities we can seek to dismantle the cross as it stands over our lives. It makes us feel uncomfortable.
In a few hours time Christians in Ormskirk will be gathering around the market clock to celebrate Calvary. We will be singing Graham Kendrick’s words
This is our God, The Servant King
He calls us now to follow Him
To bring our lives as a daily offering
Of worship to The Servant King.
May we this day decide our response to the cross – to bring our lives as a daily offering.