Bishop Caggiano op-ed: Accepting the Cross Brings Easter joy

As Christians celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection with joy, it is important to remember that we come to Christ’s empty tomb by way of His Cross.

Many churches began Holy Week by following the ancient custom of covering their sacred images, statues and crosses in purple cloth, in part to focus our attention on the days of the Lord’s Passion and Death. It forced us to recall the image of the Cross in our mind, since we could not see it with our eyes. Such an exercise helped us to realize how much we take for granted the Cross of Christ, with all the suffering that it conveys.

While we can never fully comprehend the mystery of suffering, particularly as it affects those whom we love, a deeper appreciation of the Lord’s Cross will help us to unlock the meaning of our own suffering and lead us to an Easter faith that is hopeful and rooted in the reality of God’s love for us.

So, what is the meaning of Christ’s Cross? What can it teach us in our modern world? It seems to me that the physical structure of the cross itself can teach us the enduring and profound meaning of Christ’s suffering and its power to heal and set us free.

As you know, the Cross was made of two wooden beams: a vertical one that was driven into the ground and the other that was affixed horizontally, upon which the body of the Lord Jesus was first nailed before being lifted in place. Each of these beams point in a different direction. Each can teach us a different lesson regarding the meaning of Jesus’ death.

Photos by Amy Mortensen

Let us begin with the vertical beam. It literally points from earth to heaven. This direction reminds us that the free sacrifice of the Lord Jesus upon the Cross was not a noble sacrifice of some hero or prophet. Rather, it was the self-offering of the Son of God for the forgiveness of all sins and the salvation of all humanity. The cross points up to heaven to remind us that Christ’s death opened the door to eternal life, since it was the Son of God who freely offered His life for you and me. Just as those who were standing at the foot of the Lord’s cross needed physically to look up to see Jesus, nailed high above them so no one could attempt to free Him from the cross, Christians should never tire to look upon the crucified Christ, since by His death, the Lord has lifted us up to eternal life.

The other beam of the cross was horizontal, extending the arms of the Lord open widely. This image of the Lord’s arms extended open teaches us the second great lesson of the Cross. For as the vertical beam reminds us of the salvific nature of the death of Jesus, the horizontal beam reminds us for whom the Lord Jesus died.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “And when I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself.” The horizontal beam reminds us that Jesus opened wide his arms to embrace and save all humanity. His open arms upon the cross invites everyone to enter his embrace: saints and sinners, rich and poor, young and old. For this reason, we call the Friday of the Lord’s death “good” because for our sake He died to set all people free.

On Easter Sunday, we celebrate Christ’s victory over sin and death. It is the victory of God’s love over all that wishes to destroy human life. Yet, Easter does not promise that we do not have to carry our own personal crosses in life. In fact, the contrary is true. Easter gives us the confident assurance and grace we need to carry the crosses in our own lives. While it is natural to desire a life that is free from daily struggles and pain, every Christian who wishes to walk in the footsteps of Christ knows that true love is not possible without sacrifice. While Easter offers us the promise of victory over suffering and death, it does not absolve us of the need to carry our own personal crosses, since no disciple is greater than His Master.

In order to carry our personal crosses, Easter challenges us to live lovingly with one another—with our families, our neighbors, and with all those who share our common bond of humanity. We must revitalize our communities of faith so that no one will suffer alone. No one should carry their cross alone. Pope Francis has challenged the whole church to make our communities, big and small, more credible precisely by growing in love and mercy. Our Easter faith challenges us to put faith in action, and make our witness credible.

The gift of eternal life that was won on the Cross and that we celebrate on Easter is a gift that Jesus wishes to offer to everyone who is willing to accept it. His love is for everyone. His forgiveness is offered to all who turn to him.

Our challenge is clear. We need to surrender to God’s love every day and to recognize that we are not ultimately in charge of our destiny, He is. We are to embrace everyone as he did and love as generously and radically as Jesus does. We need to embrace our sufferings borne for the sake of love and help our neighbor to do the same.

Looking at the challenges that we have created in our world following the mistaken belief that mankind is in charge, I am resolved to carry my cross as best as I can and follow the Risen Lord from Calvary to His Empty Tomb.

My friends, are you willing to do the same?

The Most Rev. Frank J. Caggiano was named bishop of Bridgeport by Pope Francis in 2013. You can read his reflections on Facebook: Bishop Frank J. Caggiano or follow him on Twitter @BishopCaggiano.