Christians don't know what to make of the cross. That is an odd statement but a fair one. Assessing the message of the various churches today you might conclude that Christians were most concerned about social issues like abortion or homosexuality, or electing a conservative Republican president, or filling huge buildings with people who come to be entertained with the latest technology and hip preaching and listening to the latest worship music hits. Even the churches which cannot claim mega status are confused by the cross. There is usually a big one in the church but it looks nothing like the one Jesus died on or said his followers needed to carry (in the mega churches you might not even see a cross at all). The preaching of the church hardly ever deals with the event of the crucifixion. Even though the passion of Christ makes up most of the four gospels, there is little time to preach on it. On Palm Sunday is the triumphal entry into Jerusalem and then the next Sunday is Easter. One celebration to another - scant attention paid to the painful events of Holy Week. There may be a Good Friday service but they are fewer and fewer and the preaching could be superficial (Jesus died to show how much God loves us) to harrowing (Jesus paid for the punishment due us for our sins). Questions abound but seldom get asked. Why did Jesus have to die to show God's love? Why did God forsake his Son on the cross? Why did Jesus have to pay for our sins and who got paid? Jesus comes off as a good guy who died for us and God the bad guy who made him do it. How did the Trinity break down on Good Friday? Some critics of Christianity want to indict God for divine child abuse? Where was God when Jesus was crying out for him?
Why did Jesus die on a cross? That's a question the whole Bible deals with. It takes a lot of unpacking. Who was Jesus? Why did He die? What does his death mean? Why a cross? And what does that mean? How did his death affect our relationship with God? Needless to say these are important questions that go unanswered for the most part.
"Why was it necessary for God's son to die in such a peculiarly horrible way in order to show us God's greater love? That's the way Fleming Rutledge puts the question that takes 600 pages to answer in her book, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ. Rutledge is an Episcopal priest and a preacher and teacher of preachers. That's what makes this book so good. She regularly asks, Does this preach? She communicates in language people can understand. She takes that question of the Cross's meaning and interacts with the history of Christian thought, literature and modern culture. Reading her book would go a long way toward "understanding" the cross and it's place in our lives today. I recommend it.