Mark, age 24, was shot in the chest by gunmen who had the wrong address. After 40 agonizing days in the hospital, he suddenly developed an infection and his family was called to his bedside. They spent the night holding Mark’s hand, caressing his forehead and praying the rosary. Very early in the morning he died.
For that family, the last night of Mark’s life was a night of triumph. Not because he died. That would be absurd. His death was tragic and senseless. The triumph was in their hand holding, caressing and praying. The triumph was in the deep and active faith which they relied on to get them through that sad, sad night.
This is why Christians exalt the cross. This is why we say that the cross of Jesus is a triumph. It looked like a tragic and terrible defeat the afternoon that Jesus died. It turned into an afternoon of triumph when the power of God raised Jesus from the dead. Forgiveness and life triumphed over sin and death.
The cross is exalted for other triumphs as well. It is a triumph of love over hate. Love was the theme of Jesus’s life. The irony was the more he loved the more he was hated. It all led to that afternoon on the cross. Love held firm as he hung there, in the midst of insults and mockery. When the day was over, hate lay beaten in the dust. Love hung triumphant on the cross.
The cross is a triumph of faith over cynicism. Life’s injustices and hardships threaten to defeat us. They tried to defeat Jesus too. He was the target of religious hypocrisy and was abandoned by those who said they loved him. Yet he forgave those who were driving nails through his hands. He forgave a thief hanging next to him and called on his Father who seemed so far away.
The cross is a triumph of persuasion over coercion. Many say the way to change things is through force. Jesus says turn the other cheek, love your enemies, pray for your persecutors. Someday, maybe we’ll learn that Jesus was right. Sledge hammers can’t make flowers grow. The persuasion of rain and sun can. These are the real triumphs of the cross.