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When we speak of living in the shadow of something, we mean that whatever that something is, it influences us, and that it can even direct the decisions we make. The influences can be for good, or for ill. It’s the context that attaches such values. Perhaps that something is actually a someone, a mentor or teacher, a leader or perhaps a great thinker. Spending time in the shadows that such people cast can mold us, shape us, and help to define our character.
Some shadows are hard to live under for they seem to form the world against us. My grandmother grew up in the shadow of the Great Depression. That experience shaped the way she saw and interacted with the world, and with people. I don’t know that she ever truly learned to live as she had learned to live life so very cautiously.
At this point in time, we live under the shadow of COVID-19, and its influence is ominous. Just a few weeks into our experience and the world around us has already changed in many ways. We wonder what things will be like when it’s all over. Will the world ever be the same again? Will things be worse than before? Is it possible that we will l experience life in new ways and that this will lead to something better?
At the time of Jesus, the Roman world lived under the shadow of the cross. This shadow was one of fear and control. The Romans would crucify people along busy roadways as reminders to help the local population behave. Crucifixion was a gruesome, ugly, and painful form of torturous execution. To see criminals hanging, dead and dying, profoundly influenced the choices of those who witnessed it. Under the shadow of the cross, choosing to live meant choosing to submit to the tyrannical rule of Roman overlords. Anything less and one risked becoming such an example, hanging at the side of the road.
This is what happened to Jesus. He was made into an example. Although Jesus had committed no crime, Pilate’s fear of Caesar making an example out of him was enough for him to order that Jesus be crucified. So, Jesus was whipped and beaten. He was forced to drag the instrument of his death to a place along a busy roadway, and there he was crucified.
Rather than Jesus’ life slipping into obscurity like so many others crucified before him, something bold and new happened. The light of the day faded around noon, and when it returned a few hours later, the world was already changing. Even the shadow of the cross was changing as the instrument of death became the symbol of new life. Suddenly the cross did not speak of shame and fear, it spoke of being set free from shame and fear. It was no longer an instrument of death but had become the way by which we might be set free to truly live life, life both abundant and eternal. Now, because of Jesus, to live in the shadow of the cross means to live in hope and freedom. To live in the shadow of the cross is to be set free of fear so that we can choose a better way.
Photo Credit : Noel Wygiera - The photo shows an eerie cliff face that overlooks a busy bus station just outside the Damascus gate of Jerusalem's Old City. It is adjacent to the Garden Tomb site. From this angle it has the appearance of a skull.