Considering the Cross in a Superhero America
Death is ugly, messy and painful. It is scary. As a result, most people try to avoid it.
We try to avoid death in a number of ways. The easiest way is to simply not think about it or talk about it. This frequently fails. Death always hovers in the background. Death is always on our minds, even when we don’t know it, present in our subconscious.
So, we try to live life to the max. We strive to keep our lives free. We try to escape shame and guilt. We aspire to high and lofty things so that we can try and transcend death itself.
Don’t believe me? Consider a moment how Americans make everything “super.” Nothing can be just ordinary in America — everything must be super. Our vehicles have supersized engines. Our meals can be supersized. We supersize our toilet paper and the paper towels are super strong. We build big houses and sleep in king-sized beds. Even our children cannot be ordinary, but we drive them to be super and special in all they do.
I would contend that we attach ourselves to things that are mighty, big, powerful, courageous and brave precisely because we are not mighty, brave, powerful and courageous in the face of death
We make our movies, shows and books super too. The children’s Power Rangers are not just ordinary Power Rangers, but Super Megaforce Power Rangers. The dogs in the children’s show Paw Patrol are not ordinary dogs but Mighty Pups or Super Paws. Later in life, our children transition into other superhero stories such as Spider Man, Superman and Mighty Thor.
We love these stories because they are an alternative universe — a fantasy world — where our heroes transcend death. We want to identify with these heroes because we also want to be superpowered and, like them, to escape the threat of death. It feels good to be super-free from the sting of death.
I am not advocating that we do away with superheroes. I am not advocating for a boycott of Paw Patrol or Marvel. It is fun to escape into an exciting story of might and power where the superhero defies death and overcomes evil.
Rather, I want to point out that throughout the daily grind of our lives, we also seek out things that are super and mighty. From morning to evening, we are drawn to stories and events that apparently transcend death. We read books that tell us how to achieve our best life now. We watch movies where the heroes have great victories. We are told to surround ourselves with people who are movers and shakers in life — people that are going places. We sing songs that say we are invincible, powerful, unstoppable, strong, that tell us we are survivors and can’t be held down.
I would contend that we attach ourselves to things that are mighty, big, powerful, courageous and brave precisely because we are not mighty, brave, powerful and courageous in the face of death. We are mortal, which is why we grab hold of things to make us feel immortal, if only for a brief moment.
Undone by the Cross
But in the cross of Christ, all of our superpowered endeavors come to an end. The cross destroys our appetite for the super and the mighty because the cross of Christ does not allow us to transcend or escape the reality of death. At the cross, we do not see a superpowered Jesus who escapes the jaws of death, but we see a bloody Jesus. And a bloody Jesus ruins the games we play. A sorrowful Jesus blows up our fantasy worlds. A bleeding Jesus strips us of whatever silly and puny power we think we have.
The Christian faith — unlike the world — does not say, “You are mighty and powerful; you have greatness within. You are cosmically special.” Instead, the Christian faith points to Jesus, dead on a cross, and says: “Behold, your dead hero. Behold the bloody cross. It was the will of the Lord to crush your hero.”
If you are shuffling right about now, good. You and I should be. If Jesus is our superhero and if He died on a cross, it undoes all our silly power-grabbing games.
Jesus did not transcend death but walked right into it. And this reveals the sting of death to you and me. No wonder why so many people are uncomfortable with the cross. The death of Christ reveals the terror of death, and it brings us face-to-face with our deaths.
We might say, “I am not afraid to die,” but, in truth, death terrifies us. Our actions betray us. The worry we have at the doctor’s office, the fear that we have amid a pandemic, the ways we try to mask the decay of our mortal bodies, the books we read, the stories that we listen to and the pep talks we give ourselves about being mighty and powerful all reveal our terror of death.
And real Christianity — not some half-baked positive-motivational-pseudo-Christianity — brings us down to reality. It shows us that death is real because sin is real. Sin has the real consequence of death.
Behold Your Dead Hero
Consider now the cross of Christ. Look straight upon the cross of Christ, despite what you feel and think. It is uncomfortable to do this, no doubt. But it is good. Behold your dead hero on a cross: Christ crucified.
Do not cover your eyes. Do not bow your head. Do not scurry to find might and power apart from the cross of Christ. Instead, know this: The power of Christ is not in His avoiding or bypassing death. The superpower of Christ is not in His dodging or fending off death itself. But instead, the might and power of Christ are in His willing giving of Himself into the jaws of death for you.
Baptized saint, do not cling to Christ because He avoids death. Do not celebrate Christ as if He is a hero who has the power to skirt the tomb. The way to Resurrection Sunday is not around Good Friday but through Good Friday.
Cling to the bloody Christ because His cross is your cross. His death is your death. Your sin becomes His sin on that cross.
Yes, behold your hero whose death poured forth blood and water for you.
Behold your hero who takes away the sin of the world by bleeding and dying.
Behold the death of Christ — the death you are baptized into.
Behold Christ’s death, which is your sanctuary in the agony of sin and your hope’s anchor amid life’s afflictions.
Behold Christ’s death, which is the end of sin’s guilt, death’s fear and the devil’s power. Do not look around Christ’s cross, above it or behind it, but right at it.
And as you look directly at the cross of Christ, hear the words of your hero. Hear words of reality: “It is finished.”
Photo: LCMS Communications/Erik M. Lunsford