A number of years ago, a young man came to me because he was in crisis: He had been having an affair with his girlfriend and she had become pregnant. For a variety of reasons, marriage was impossible. The pregnancy would have an irrevocable impact on a series of lives, his girlfriend’s, his own, their families’, not to mention the child that would be born.
He was a sensitive person and knew that he had been irresponsible. He made no attempt to rationalize or to deflect blame from himself. He recognized that he had done wrong and that through his irresponsibility a certain innocence had been lost, trust had been betrayed, various lives had been permanently disrupted, and he would now live in a certain brokenness. This troubled him deeply.
He ended his story on a note of despair: “I was irresponsible and this has, forever, hurt some people because even God can’t unscramble an egg!” For him, it now seemed, there would always be a certain skeleton in the closet, a past ghost to haunt his happiness.
Even God can’t unscramble an egg! What a statement! And how true, except for one thing: The cross of Jesus reveals that we can live, and live happily and healthily, beyond any egg we have ever scrambled. That is the central message of the cross. How does the cross tell us this?
Sigmund Freud, the father of modern psychology, used to say that we understand the make-up of things best when we see them lying in pieces, shattered. In the brokenness we see the underlying structure. That is also true of love and faith. We see how they are made up when we see them fractured. Jesus’ death shows us this. At the second he died, scripture says, the “curtain veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom.” The curtain veil, as we know, separated the people in the temple from seeing what went on in the holy of holies, it represented the veil between God and ourselves. The cross of Jesus tears apart that veil and lets us see inside the holy of holies, the heart of God. And what do we see there? Unfathomable love, unfathomable forgiveness, a compassion and tenderness beyond understanding. In the cross, God tells us: “You can do this to me – and I will still love you!”
I remember another young man who shared with me how he once so badly betrayed all that he believed in that he decided to commit suicide. Setting out to kill himself, he decided, first, to stop in a church and say some final prayers. He entered a church and sat down. The only thing lit up in that darkened church was a crucifix on the front wall. He looked at the cross and, in a second of sheer grace, understood what it meant.
Here are his words: “I looked at the cross and I understood: I was in hell and God hadn’t stopped loving me for one second. I saw that God loves me, no matter what. I’m not proud of what I did and it will always be part of me, but I can live beyond it, and be happy, knowing God’s love and strength are always with me, even when I betray them.” Unaware that he was doing it, he was tenderly fingering a cross he was wearing around his neck as he shared this.
An elderly nun, whom I much love and respect, is fond of saying: “I’m a loved sinner!” The secret to spiritual health is to acknowledge, in the roots of our souls, both parts of that equation: We are sinners without any need to rationalize or excuse ourselves, even as we have the sure knowledge that God loves us, deeply and irrevocably, in our weakness. The cross gives us that assurance by telling us, precisely, that God doesn’t stop loving us, even for one second, irrespective of weakness.
The cross of Christ is rich reality. Among other things, it tells us how God loves and redeems us even when we are unfaithful and our lives are broken.
It is not surprising that hundreds of millions of people, young and old, wear a cross in some form. These crosses, like the meaning of the cross itself, have an infinite variety of shapes and sparkles. From delicately cut, golden ear-rings, chosen to match an expensive evening dress, to rough, crude wooden crosses slung casually over a denim shirt, the cross of Jesus is everywhere evident. We see it on hillsides, on church spires, in cemeteries, and most everywhere where anything special, love or tragedy, has happened. Rightly so. The cross is the ultimate symbol of love. It shows what love is, what love costs, and what love does for us.
Most important of all, it shows us that God never stops loving us even for a second, no matter what we do, and that we can live, and live happily, beyond any egg we have ever scrambled.