What is the significance of the cross and the crucifixion of Jesus?

First of all, I see the cross of Jesus as having a political meaning. Jesus was executed by the authorities, and if we ask why, the most persuasive historical explanation is because of Jesus' passion for the Kingdom of God, which involved him in radical criticism of the domination system of his day. The domination system killed him. On the one hand, the cross tells us what domination systems oftentimes do to those who oppose them. It tells us about the typical behavior of empires.

The cross in the New Testament also has a more personal and individual meaning as a symbol or an image for the path of transformation, for what it means to follow Jesus. It means to die and rise with Christ. We find this in Paul. "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." The cross there is an image for that path of spiritual and psychological transformation that leads to a new identity and way of being.

Then there's the cross as the once and for all sacrifice for sin. If we literalize that language, as…much of conventional Christianity has done, the only way God can forgive sins is if adequate sacrifice is offered: Somebody has got to be punished, and that person is Jesus. Also only those people who know and believe in that story can be saved. Thus, literalizing that language is a slur on the character of God. If you see Jesus' death as part of the divine plan, as part of the will of God, that suggests that God required the suffering of this immeasurably great man. It is never the will of God that an innocent person be crucified, and to suggest that is to suggest something horrible about God.

If, on the other hand, we understand the language of Jesus’s being the sacrifice for sin as a post-Easter interpretation of his death that emerges within the early Christian community, we can then see that, metaphorically, it's a proclamation of radical grace. The connection is this: If Jesus is the once and for all sacrifice for sin, understood metaphorically now, it means that God has already taken care of whatever it is that we think separates us from God. It means that God accepts us just as we are and that the Christian life is not about getting right with God. God's already taken care of that. The Christian life becomes about something else, namely, living within this framework of radical trust in God and relationship to God that makes possible our transformation, and, ideally and ultimately, the transformation of the world.

—Dr. Marcus Borg

Atonement is the Christian doctrine of the cross—Why did Jesus die? What did his death accomplish? There are a lot of versions of the atonement doctrine in Christian history—The “substitutionary blood sacrifice” version of the atonement is the least compelling theological explanation of the cross for me.

For me, the suffering of Jesus is a sacrament of the love of God. The story tells us that God willingly soaks up all of our systemic injustice, personal evil and violence and returns only love.

The predominant ethos of Jesus is compassion. And here's where the use of Latin actually comes in handy. Cum , meaning “with,” and passio , meaning “to suffer; to feel deeply.” Compassion = “to feel and suffer deeply with.” It is a visceral word. Biblically it is associated with the kind of feeling that comes from the womb or from the bowels, and so we have that odd biblical expression of Jesus that “his bowels were moved with compassion.” (John 11:33, 38) Jesus reveals a God whose love for us is deep and womb-like, like the love a mother has for the child of her womb.

So, God is no distant deity in some pure heaven far away. God is with us on earth in our horror, our terror, our violence, and our suffering. God refuses to add to the evil and violence, but instead responds with vulnerable, compassionate love. That's how God wins. The resurrection of Jesus proclaims that love is more powerful than hate, compassion triumphs over oppression, and vulnerability overcomes power. Jesus invites us to put our trust in God, even in the face of horror, oppression, cruelty and death. God is with us. God feels and suffers deeply with us. And, what God does best is to bring life out of death.

—Lowell Grisham
from "How to Watch The Passion of the Christ"


The Dalai Lama, currently living in exile from his beautiful, beloved land of Tibet, is reported to have given this instruction to his people on the occasion of the new millennium:

"Take always into account that inevitably great love and great
achievements involve great risks."

I believe that this same wisdom is included in the invitation of the cross and the invitation of the Christ to us. "Come and dare to risk!" they say, "for that is the only way to enter into the true
fullness of life."

How sad it would be for any one of us to come to the end of our lifetime and to look back and realize only then that we have failed to be courageous, that we have not dared to love fully or to live fully, that we have not dared to take risks, or to step forward into uncharted territory. But that we have lived instead a life of fear and hesitation, afraid to be open, afraid to be generous-- with ourselves or with our abilities, with our wealth and even with our poverty.

"For those who want to save their life will lose it," Jesus said, "and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it."

Margaret Gunness

On the cross, God shows us what divine love does with our violence and our hate. God soaks it up and does not give it back. God absorbs our anxiety, our anger and our fear and instead of reacting with wrath and punishment, God does something utterly unpredictable. God brings resurrection. Oh, death happens. Death of some kind is always the bitter fruit of anxiety and anger and fear. But death is not the last word when God is at work. God takes everything our human ugliness can dish out, God accepts it and absorbs it into Jesus on the cross. And God returns only forgiveness, which when planted for three days blooms into resurrection faith which overcomes anxiety, resurrection hope which cools anger, and resurrection love which casts out fear.

—Lowell Grisham 
from "The Trouble Keeper"

We hear in the Gospel that Jesus has to be lifted up. I wonder how many of you know how very, very literal that is. My understanding is that when they nailed Jesus to the cross, the cross was lying flat on the ground. After he was nailed to the cross, they lifted it up. That is theological, and it makes a lot of sense. It would have been more difficult to do it any other way. What we hear in the Gospel is that if we will look to Jesus, if we will look at Jesus, if we will lift up our heads—which proves you don't always have to close your eyes when you pray—and look up to Jesus with trust and dependence, we will live, and we will live in a special way. Our lives will be changed, and we will be helped. We will, as Paul says in the epistle, "Be saved by grace," not by anything we do, "through faith."

When Jesus was nailed to the cross and lifted up, when he allowed himself to be crucified and lifted up, there was more than his body being lifted up. Scripture and good theology tell us that along with his body were lifted up all of our sins. You have heard it said, "Christ died for our sins." That's what they're talking about. On Jesus' back were our sins. God sees us through the filter of Jesus Christ as good, because Jesus took our sins upon him. So Jesus was lifted up, and through that, God lifts us up.

—William A. Kolb