The Cross on Easter Sunday

The cross is an inspiration and a challenge

A few years ago a young journalist was asked by her editor to write an article on her experience of the Holy Week ceremonies. She was disappointed with the task; her colleagues had been dispatched on more glamorous assignments like the Easter races.   
She approached it as a job to be endured.
On Holy Thursday she turned up to the Mass of the Lord's Supper. It was a novelty for her as she had never seen the washing of the feet before. Afterwards, she lingered in the church to experience the atmosphere of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.
The following day she was back for the 3pm Good Friday service and by now, by her own admission, she was entering into the spirit of the Triduum. She was struck by the sight of the priest lying prostrate and the eerie silence of the congregation disbanding at the end without a final hymn.
On Holy Saturday she even found herself looking forward to that night's Easter Vigil. She described the visual drama of hundreds of candles illuminating the darkened church and how the purple draped statues were now uncovered and the familiar faces of St Joseph, the Blessed Virgin and St Therese had reappeared.
Then, as the lights were turned on in the church, she noticed a giant crucifix. There was Christ, she wrote, back on the cross; the resurrection had lasted all of two minutes. It was, she lamented, Good Friday again. That's how the Catholic Church prefers it she concluded. She was perplexed: after the glory of the resurrection, how could the violent Cross be the symbol of the Christian faith?

Deepest roots
By his suffering on that cross, we answer, Christ reached at the deepest roots of evil, sin and death and conquered Satan, the author of evil: although, as Pope Francis regularly points out, that doesn't mean that the 'Evil One' will not try to ensnare people today. So, while the empty tomb is a symbol of new life, the cross is a triumphant symbol of love.
We don't hear the cross mentioned much these days, probably in reaction to bad memories of unhealthy spiritualities and skewed understandings of the doctrine of atonement that encouraged scruples and guilt.  Indeed, I remember hearing about a mother who made her two young sons kneel in the parlour, as she pointed up to a crucifix and warned them, "Look at that. If that's what He did to His Son imagine what He'll do to you!" Is it any wonder many welcomed a break from hearing about the cross?
The cross is central to our faith though. It teaches a powerful lesson: our redemption was achieved through suffering and, as a result, suffering has now itself been redeemed.
These aren't just nice words. A conversation I had several years ago with a sick house-bound man demonstrates how practical and meaningful this can be. I asked the man how he was coping with the nuisance of his illness. "I'd be gone out of my mind," he said, "if it wasn't for the prayers." 
Then he elaborated. He told me that he was able to endure the discomfort of his sickness because he felt able to spiritually unite his pain with the suffering of Christ. He was able to "offer it up".
I pressed him to explain what he meant. He replied that he felt that his suffering was helping to bring about the Kingdom of God in the world; that, in some way, just as Christ's suffering overcame evil, he could make his suffering work, through Christ, to overcome injustice in the world today. In particular, he was praying for an end to the evil of child slavery and war.

When we accept suffering with love and in imitation of Christ, it is transformed and becomes transformative. That doesn't mean that suffering is any less painful but it has a new meaning. Our own hardships though are now able to contribute to the economy of good. Those who share in the sufferings of Christ are also called, through their own sufferings, to share in Christ's glory.
"Christ is in agony until the end of the world," wrote Blaise Pascal in Penses. Pope John Paul put it similarly when he wrote, "the Gospel of suffering is being written unceasingly". Christ's agony continues in those in pain and the Gospel of suffering is being written today in those enduring injustice. When we look at the cross we are reminded of our brothers and sisters who are suffering.
So, the cross isn't a guilt trip because of a moment in time. Instead, it is an inspiration and a challenge to love. That's why it is always before us, even on Easter Sunday.
Last year I was in the Holy Land for the first time and visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. There, under the same roof, you will find both Calvary and the tomb. They are located beside each other. It's a perfect illustration of how, in the words of Pope Benedict, it will always be Easter Sunday and Good Friday at the same time.
Ave Crux, Spes Unica.
Hail the cross, our only hope.