“For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
Johann Sebastian Bach is known for his mastery of the ‘fugue’, a musical form built around one, recurring theme. Bach’s ‘Art of the Fugue’ is a collection of brilliantly constructed fugues that exemplify the form. So much so that they can be played by virtually any instrumental combination with satisfying effect. These fugues can be quite complex. At the same time they never lose sight of that one, central theme.
Bach offers an insight into the nature and purpose of theology, of the Christian witness. Like the winding counterpoint of the fugue, the great theme of the Cross may be amplified in any number of voices. Indeed, it should be. But if that theme is broken or lost, the composition wanders aimlessly. The composition is disharmonious and ultimately pointless.
One can sense today the widespread confusion regarding the Christian faith. There are many voices but the counterpoint often lacks harmony and focus. When the message of the Cross falls out of the center of the Christian witness disharmony results. St. Paul was among the first Christians that we know of to tap the podium in an effort to get the attention of the members of the orchestra who were wandering off into themes of their own making. He heard, as we can today, elements of the church that were losing their voice for the Cross.
This is not to say that the Cross is not widely talked about today. But much of that talk “spins” the Cross to be a moment of divine identification with us poor victims of whatever injustice we feel has come upon us. Poor Jesus was a victim, too. So He can relate. He can identify with us and we with Him. But this is not the message of the cross. This is not the theme The fact is that the Cross reveals that no one was interested in identifying with the gracious God in Jesus. He died alone and despised. “Weep not for me”, Jesus said,. “but for yourselves and your children.”
This, then, is the great fugal theme of the faith. On the Cross God seals the exits so that there is only one way out. That way is the crucified and Risen Lord Himself. The Cross does not identify with us. It indicts us. At the same time, the great theme of the Cross rings with the sound of pure grace. “Father, forgive them”, he said. If the cross indicts us in our godlessness, even more does it reveal God precisely where He means to be found, in the suffering and dying Jesus where God moves against us and for us.
The Cross is where the Truth is told, revealed, where God is known, where godless ones like you and me are brought to an end and invited, commanded to resin up our bows, break out the trumpets, xylophones, clarinets, electric guitars, kazoos or whatever voice we have and join the theme! Plumb it to the depths, soar to its’ heights with the madness and reckless abandon that can only come from those who know they are as good as dead, and yet so very much alive through our Crucified and Risen Lord!
“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”