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Why a Crucifix?

This week many Christians will celebrate Jesus as the humble King who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey on Palm Sunday. Others will read passages from the Gospel of John that constitute the Passion Sunday story, taking us step by step along that painful journey Jesus took through the streets and hearts of Jerusalem to the Cross. On Good Friday most of us who are Jesus’ followers will pause in some way to reflect on the ugly execution of the Lord of Love. This is an adult story because it is so cruel and ugly with threats, insults, beatings, and the crude implements used to make Jesus suffer. Whipped with the scourge to tear his skin, decorated with a crown to pierce his head, spit upon, the Lord of Glory endures. Thus weakened by these cruel blows Jesus is made to carry a heavy wooden cross. Jesus stumbles and falls.

Mel Gibson made us feel those wounds and the heaviness of cruelty more than other movie makers dared in The Passion of the Christ some years ago. You could hear occasional gasps and feel the nausea passing through the audience. This story makes us sick. And that is the point. Jesus the Lord of Glory endured sickening cruelty for us.

The mystery of it is never fully comprehended. We can read about it, even study the medical explanations of how a crucified man would die, that is, of asphyxiation and the slow loss of blood. But we cannot fully comprehend the event. The mystery of the cross lies in the goodness of God. Isaiah 53 does it best.

He was despised and rejected by mankind,

a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering. . .

He was pierced for our transgressions,

He was crushed for our iniquities;

the punishment that brought us peace was on him,

and by his wounds we are healed.

I will celebrate his resurrection. But I want to ponder the passionate love of God in Christ that took this route to change my destiny. Everything else in the Gospels, the miracles, the love, the words of wisdom, even the Resurrection, do make sense, because of course, he is God! The Cross is the unexplainable hinge of history, through which God’s story intersects my story, our story as human beings. It is that hour when Jesus is dying, when he is so stricken that he cries out “My God, My God, why?” when I know God has taken his Son over the edge, the most incredible route to shake me out of my doldrums, out of my depression, any self-destructive trap Satan has enticed me into. In those hours of grinding pain, Paul says, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.” How can I stubbornly turn away from a God of such love?

So I have a crucifix. I wear it often during Lent, and especially during Holy Week. I also have one that fits my hand when I want to hold on to Jesus’ presence in a time of devotion. These don’t depict a dead Jesus, as some protestant evangelicals might complain. No, these for me depict the dying Jesus, who is so grand in his eloquent love that he makes me gasp for air as I take in the fullness of God’s love. That moment is eternal, it floats through all of time and space beyond history. And it changes everything. That is why I have a crucifix.

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