Fr. Nathan Baxter
Over the past five months, I’ve read through an extraordinary book by theologian and preacher Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ. Thought-provoking and packed with insight, the book has sparked for me a deepened commitment to preach the Cross of Jesus. As we enter the Triduum, I offer a few excerpts from her opening chapter, “The Primacy of the Cross.”
In apostolic preaching concerning Jesus, “there was no thought of separating cross and resurrection, or of elevating one over the other.” The rectification of sinners achieved through the crucifixion of the Son of God is inseparable from the renewal of all things begun in the resurrection of the crucified Son of Man. “The resurrection is not just the reappearance of a dead person. It is the mighty act of God to vindicate the One whose very right to exist was thought to have been negated by the powers that nailed him to a cross.”
Yet, the resurrection of Jesus never eclipses his cross: “the One who is gloriously risen is the same One who suffered crucifixion. It is not an insignificant detail that ‘doubting Thomas’ asks to see the marks of the nails and the spear in the Lord’s resurrected body (John 20:25).” Even in glimpses of Jesus’ heavenly glory, Jesus remains “the One whose wounds still show, the One by whose blood the robes of the redeemed have been cleansed for all eternity (Rev. 5:6-7)” (Rutledge p 64).
Paul told the Corinthian Christians, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Paul said this “not because he considered the resurrection to be of lesser importance,” but because the Corinthian Christians, to their great peril, “wanted to pass over [the Cross] altogether. This tendency persists in the American church today. H. Richard Niebuhr put it unforgettably in The Kingdom of God in America: ‘a God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.’ When this happens, we may have religiosity, we may have a uplift, we may have spirituality, but we do not have Christianity” (Rutledge p 65).
“The overwhelming impression given by the four Gospels plus 1 Corinthians 11 is that the Lord, knowing he was soon to be betrayed, deliberately and solemnly spoke of my body and my blood given for you…. This very specific talk about a body given and blood poured out can only be interpreted in terms of Jesus’ death. The ‘new covenant in my blood’ is established, not by an assumption into heaven nor even by a heroic martyr’s death, but by the strangest death ever conceived…” (Rutledge p 68-69).
“Do we meet the risen Lord in the Lord’s Supper? Absolutely. Is the sacrament of the Lords Supper a liturgy of the resurrection? Absolutely. But the resurrection did not occur independently of the crucifixion. The people who come forward to receive the sacrament are not a shining band of perfected sinners—not yet. It is therefore of great importance, ethically as well as theologically, to recognize that there is no secure place of permanent rest in this world for the pilgrim people of God whose calling is to proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes’” (Rutledge p 69).