By Scott Smith
Made with ashes, the sign of the cross on the forehead has marked the beginning of Lent for Christians for two millennia. But why? Why is it that followers of Jesus embrace an instrument of execution and torture as the primary symbol of this season we call Lent?
On the surface the answer seems obvious. The season of Lent culminates on Good Friday when we rehearse the story of the crucifixion of Jesus, an event in which we locate God’s infinite grace and forgiveness. While grace and forgiveness certainly are central to the Christian faith, if we dig beneath the surface of this familiar story, we discover that the conspiracy that culminated in the execution of Jesus was intended to silence him and his gospel of the Kingdom of God, a message that was a clear threat to current social order.
This gospel that Jesus preached was a particular vision for the world. It was a vision built on the foundations of shalom, compassion and justice, a vision for a world where everything that is wrong is made right, a vision that necessarily implied actual transformation in human society. It was for that “good news” and the movement he began that Jesus was murdered.. Jesus was fully aware that, like the prophets before him, he would pay with his life for this message he proclaimed.
As we journey through Lent, it seems only logical to reflect on this other dimension of the cross and then ask ourselves a most unsettling question, “Do I really want to deny myself, take up a cross, and follow Jesus?”