Around this time in April, a little less than two thousand years ago, a man on a cross was crucified on a hill on the outskirts of Jerusalem.
This is not a question relegated to Sunday School, intended for a trite summary of imputed righteousness or a discourse on the atonement. There is a time and place, of course, for doctrine and theology – but not today. Not today.
Today is a day to stand up and face the man on the cross – not the Book written about him (though it is a good book), not the messengers he has sent (though, by and large, they are good people), not even the religion he founded (though I believe it to be the true religion), but the man himself, the man who hangs upon the cross.
Whatever else he was, we know he was a man: He lived and breathed and walked upon the Earth, laughed and cried, whispered, shouted, and sang. And, whatever else he did – wherever he may have traveled, whatever he may have believed – we know he died an early death, a criminal’s death on a cross.
You have heard the answers before. “Jesus died for our sins.” “Jesus took our place.” But today may not be a day for those answers (though I ultimately accept them as Gospel), those calm and reasoned reflections on the matter. Today is a day simply to face the reality of the man on the cross, unmasked and unadorned and terribly real.
The man on the cross does not exist in a fairytale. He does not exist in the abstract. He exists in the here and now: He exists to be confronted. He demands an answer – any answer, but an answer must be given.
Today is the day to seek an answer. I am not here to tell you what that answer is, or even how to search for it – though, of course, I have my convictions on those matters. I am here to tell you that you cannot leave the man on the cross without such an answer. His death – a real death, not a storybook death – deserves at least that much.
For the mere possibility that the Christians are right – the mere possibility that a man on a cross died for you and for your sins – is at once too beautiful and too urgent to be passed over. The veracity of the claim can be discredited; the evidence for the claim can be undermined; but its pressing nature cannot be denied. I cannot be considered impassively from an armchair; a man is dead, and we must reckon with that death. The man on the cross can be vilified or rejected or removed from his later Christian trappings – but he cannot be ignored.
And so I beg you: Today, do not forget the man on the cross.