If the resurrection of Jesus is the victory over sin, death, and the devil, why is the cross still so significant in following Jesus? Shouldn’t it be left behind as an object of veneration and gratitude for all Jesus accomplished on it and resurrection victory be the mode of life this side of that great event? Yet much we read in New Testament about following Jesus remains ordered around the cross. Why is this?
Two things about this seem important to me. The first is the reality that the church lives in the time between Christ’s resurrection (victory; D-Day to use World War II imagery) and his return (V-Day). In that period in between the two (like the year between D-Day and V-Day in the war) fighting continues even though the outcome of the war has been determined. This being the case, the cross remains central for the church because the cross is the way we fight our battles!
A second thing is that the resurrection serves as God’s validation and vindication of Jesus’ way of life as God’s own. This means that as we grow more and more to be like Jesus, cross-bearing in a fallen world will be more and more our way of life as well. In truth, cross-bearing is the way of God’s life in a fallen world. We grow evermore into it rather than leaving it behind. Cruciform living is the shape the life God gives us takes in a world where that kind of life in contested or rejected.
But what about the life to come? Will we still be “bearing the cross” then? Yes and no, I think. We could put it like this: We will still live the other-focused, selfless way in the next life but minus the contestation and resistance. It’s the same life as the cross-bearing life just in a very different context. In the church we ought to able to experience some measure of this kind of life even in the here and now. But it’s the same life, “eternal life,” which as the Gospel of John is at pains to remind us, is the quality of God’s life lived here and now as well as in the future.
So, we won’t always have a cross to bear, but we will always live the life that lead to it for Jesus and his followers here on earth. Once the resistance and rejection of such a way of life is gone, it will simply be the way everyone lives caring for and serving one another throughout the ages. And surprise of surprises, in the last verse of the last vision of the book of Revelation this way of living is called “reigning,” which will be our life and vocation throughout eternity (Rev.22:5)!