In the movie The Last Samurai, Tom Cruise plays an American war hero-“has been” by the name of Nathan Algren. He hated his life and medicated that hate with alcohol. He then finds himself in Japan fighting for and against people he doesn’t know or care much about. It seems that Algren just wants to die. But after being captured and living amongst these rebel samurais, he begins to learn of their ways and embrace their culture. He notes throughout the movie, how different the samurai’s culture is from his own back home. And one of those differences was the concept of honor; that even in death there can be great honor. In fact, the samurai called this a beautiful death. Now for us, a “beautiful death” is an oxymoron. There’s nothing beautiful about death. Death is sad. Death is tragic. Death steals our loved ones away and leaves us lonely and depressed. There’s no such thing as a beautiful death.
And perhaps that’s the reason behind our tendency to remove our attention and concentration from the death of Jesus Christ. I was in a church service once where a Pastor began criticizing Catholicism and their wide use of crucifixes, claiming that Jesus isn’t on the cross anymore. And although I hear what the pastor is saying and I agree with him; within that I think there may be a tendency for us to brush off the crucifixion and Good Friday, and rush our way to Easter. It may be a good thing, which is perhaps why we call it Good Friday, to linger…just a bit longer…at the foot of the cross.
But since we’re talking about oxymorons, let me introduce another: Avoiding Death. We talk about this all the time…but more than that… we live it! We purchase age-enhancing this or that; plastic surgeries are at an all-time high; and when a tragedy happens it has to be someone’s fault because any death surely can be prevented. This was the case on the campus of Notre Dame when a student was on a bucket crane filming the football team’s practice. A giant gust of wind swept through and knocked the crane over, killing the young man. Immediately national pressure was applied to deem who was at fault for such a tragedy…never once being open to the possibility that the cause of the young man’s death was…tragedy.
For us, many times death is not something that we think is certain…along with taxes. Death is something to be avoided. But if you could, settle on that thought for just a second. Death is something to be avoided? Now that is an oxymoron! In many cultures of the world, people would look at us and wonder what in the heck we’re talking about. When I lived in Haiti, death was so commonplace…it was such a part of life…that people spoke of it so matter-of-factly. “So-and-so died,” someone would tell me. “Oh my! How did they die?” I asked. “They just died,” would be the common reply; or “They got sick.” Now I’m not saying medicine is bad or prolonging death is bad. I like living and I want to advocate prolonged and healthy lives. But I’m challenging our perspectives…where our lives are so comfortable and safe that we forget that death will eventually come to us all. And this perspective affects our ability to grasp the beauty of the cross, or the goodness of Good Friday.
WHAT THE CROSS MEANS FOR US…
So if we can move past our fear and removal of death, we might be able to grasp a depth of meaning the cross of Christ has for us. It’s like watching a really quality movie; but the end left you a bit disturbed, so you decide you don’t like it…even though it was a really good movie. Let’s try to move past our discomfort with death and linger a bit at the cross.
And if we can linger at the cross, I want you to ask yourself a very important question: What does two sticks perpendicular mean for me? What sort of implications on ME does this little symbol of the cross create?