The Cross In No Man’s Land

Apostles Anglican Church

Fr. John A. Roop

Good Friday, 2 April 2021

A Good Friday Meditation:  The Cross in No Man’s Land

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you;

Because by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world.

There is an image that has haunted me for seven years now:  a series of images, really, from Kiev, Ukraine, images from January 2014.  These images come from the middle of the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution — the Revolution of Dignity — waged between protesters intent upon ousting then President Victor Yanukovych and overthrowing the government on one side and the loyalist riot police on the other.

The images show the two hostile groups arrayed in ranks ready to engage.  The protesters are armed with rocks and bricks and Molotov cocktails.  The police are in riot gear with heavy armor and heavy weapons.  Between the groups is a no man’s land littered with the debris of earlier clashes.  In that danger zone, the place where conflict will occur if it does occur, stands a group of Orthodox monks.  One lifts high the cross of Christ.  One holds an icon.  One censes the holy ground on which they stand.  The monks had been invited to join the “people’s side,” but they had refused to take sides at all.  They just stood there in the midst of the battlefield with the cross.  They prayed.  They chanted:

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death,

and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.

The image is a window into recent history, but it is also icon, a window through which to view spiritual reality, which is, of course, simply reality.  Between the warring sides stands the cross — and those who bear it, those who are willing to die for it and die upon it.  The monks have planted the cross on desecrated ground, ground littered with the detritus of war.  The cross has sanctified that ground.  They are standing there with the cross not so much to keep the combatants apart, but rather to call them together at the foot of the cross, to show them that the only way forward to peace lies through the cross of Christ.

That day — 22 January 2014 — was Good Friday:  not on the calendar, but in a reality beyond time; not in Jerusalem, but in Kiev, not two millennia ago, but here and now.  The icon is not exact, but all the essentials are there, all the broad outlines of the figures and the themes and the truth.

In the middle of a world at war with God, in the middle of a world at war with itself, in the middle of a world in cosmic conflict between its Creator and its usurper, God stepped into the no man’s land, a land littered with the perpetrators and casualties and relics of war:  Judas, Peter, the Scribes and Pharisees, the priests and Sadducees, Herod and the Jews, Pilate and the Romans, you and me and all the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve.  God stepped into the middle of this world at war and there he planted the cross on the no man’s land of Calvary.  He did more than just plant the cross; he bore it.  He did more than just bear the cross; he hung on it.  He did more than just hang on the cross; he died on it.  He planted the cross there not to keep the combatants apart — God forbid! — but to call them together at the foot of the cross, to make the peace himself, to show that the only way forward to peace lies through the cross of Christ.

The cross was folly, a fool’s errand.  The battles continued to rage around it.  Judas hanged himself.  The Scribes and Pharisee, the priests and Sadducees retreated to synagogues and Temple and were destroyed along with their synagogues and Temple some forty years later.  Herod went back to his petulance and hedonism and died an ignominious death within the decade while pretending to be god.  It took awhile, but Rome crumbled from within and was destroyed from without.  A folly.  A fool’s errand.

1 Corinthians 1:18–25 (ESV): 18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, 

  “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, 

and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 

The cross a folly?  The cross a fool’s errand?  Oh yes.  And the cross is also the power of God and the wisdom of God and the justice of God and the mercy of God and the victory of God and the Glory of God; for the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

Brothers and sisters, the battle still rages.  The world is at war over politics and ideologies and race and gender and money and power.  What it desperately needs is fools who will take the cross of Christ and stand in the no man’s land between these warring factions and proclaim the folly of Christ and him crucified.  Every person on the face of this earth who does not know Christ is at war, is both a combatant in and a casualty of that war.  What they need is fools who will take the cross of Christ to them and who will stand there with them in the no man’s land and proclaim to them the folly of Christ and him crucified.

I am haunted by the image of the monks of Kiev standing there amidst the debris of war holding the cross.  I am haunted in no small part because I know that’s where I should be, another fool embracing the folly of the Christ, proclaiming only Christ and him crucified.  Amen.

About johnaroop

I am a husband, father, retired teacher, lover of books and music and coffee and, as of 17 May 2015, by the grace of God and the will of his Church, an Anglican priest in the Anglican Church in North America, Anglican Diocese of the South. I serve as assisting priest at Apostles Anglican Church in Knoxville, TN, and as Canon Theologian for the Anglican Diocese of the South.
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