Images in the Readings
The most ancient cross that we have found in Christian art is a small ivory carving on the side of a box from the late fourth century. When execution by crucifixion was commonplace in the Roman Empire, Christians were understandably horrified by the cross, and only after the emperor Constantine outlawed crucifixions could Christians adopt the cross as a symbol of God’s grace.
Ancient Israel had no sense of an afterlife. Rather, a successful patrilineal line constituted the continuation of one’s life after death. Thus the biblical desire for a son exemplifies the perennial desire to overcome one’s termination at death. (Yet in a biblical corrective to rigid patriarchy, none of the important sons in the Old Testament, from Seth to Solomon, was a firstborn: thus oftentimes the ideal of primogeniture did not actually determine inheritance.) Calling Jesus the Son of God arises from within this patrilineal worldview. As the Son of God, Christ Jesus is our way beyond death.
The usual translation “God Almighty” obscures the archaic image of God as residing above the mountain peaks or as nourishing the people with milk-filled breasts. The circumlocution Lord also obscures the non-gendered Hebrew “I am.” The God who promises us life from the cross is bigger than our language suggests.
Paul’s language of justification assumes that God is a judge who requires of us a life of righteousness. That justification comes through faith does not eliminate the necessity for such a radical reorientation of the self before God.
Rev. Kenneth Saurman