FIXATING on the Crucifix

One hangs from my kitchen window.  Bought at the end of a disappointing day in Santa Fe in December, and crafted from red chili peppers, it is my most unique version, and reminds me that all things can be redeemed – even grumpy days.

Another hangs on the wall by the front door.  Hammered from recycled tin drums by artists in Haiti, it demonstrates that beauty and hope can rise from despair and discarded garbage.

Yet another – postcard size – is framed along with eight other prints taken from the pages of the St. John’s Illuminated Bible.  It challenges me to consider richness and truth from traditions and denominations outside my own.

Finally, a fourth leans against the wall.  Crafted lovingly by the hands of my six-year-old son, it’s made with random sticks he found in the yard and fastened together by yarn he discovered in the craft room.  It causes me to reflect on the faith and love of a child – so innocent and endearing.

While these four crosses aren’t the extent of what has grown into a collection of crosses, they are four within eyesight from where I currently sit.  Each cross evokes memories and thoughts related to its specific story about when and how I obtained it.  At the same time, I look upon the crosses and am reminded of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice.  While it does strike me as odd that the very means once used to torture and execute our God now serves as decorations in our home, around our necks, and on the bumpers of our cars, I also want to never empty the cross of its power.  While some may not recognize or understand its meaning, and “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing….to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:18)

For all the diversity of the size, shape, material, and history of my crosses, they are 100% identical in one manner.  They are all empty.

That is, until two weeks ago.

Two weeks ago I spent a refreshing three-days at the Assumption Abbey in Richardton, North Dakota on a personal retreat.  The simplicity, silence and scripture I encountered at the abbey infused peace and life into my weary soul.  At the end of the stay, I visited the gift shop and selected another cross to add to my growing collection.  Looking at this cross, the memories and experience at the abbey immediately come to mind.

But this cross isn’t empty.

It’s a crucifix.  Jesus is hanging on the cross.

As much as I love my new crucifix cross, I haven’t hung it up yet.  To be honest, I feel a little hesitant about pulling it out of the box; I am worried about what people will think.

I’ve heard all the statements – I’ve even made them myself in years past.  “Jesus rose from the dead – he’s alive!  He’s no longer on the cross!” – as if they that use crucifixes don’t believe in the resurrection.

But on this gloomy, cloudy, cold Friday – the day we mysteriously call Good Friday – I find such statements ring rather hollow.  Today I’ve sung songs about the “Wondrous Cross”, read scripture about Christ being nailed to the cross, prayed in earnest thanksgiving for his sacrifice and suffering on the cross, and through the powerful medium of video, even lamented that it should have been me instead of him upon the cross.

Of course I know that Sunday is coming.  That’s what gives anything about this life purpose and hope.  But I am also guilty of skipping over the sorrow, pain and despair of Friday, overly eager to get to “the good part” on Sunday.  But, even when taunted to come off the cross on that Friday afternoon, Christ did not.  So I should not.

I wonder, can one truly fixate on the sacrifice – on the image of Christ on the cross – too much?

Perhaps, but I’m a long ways from reaching the too-much-fixation-label.  I appreciate Fulton Sheen’s comments about a crucifix vs an empty cross, “Keep your eyes on the crucifix, for Jesus without the cross is a man without a mission, and the cross without Jesus is a burden without a reliever.”  And according to Paul, every time we have communion we are proclaiming Christ’s death.

Jesus isn’t still a baby, yet we lay him in the manger at Christmas to remember his humble beginnings.  Jesus doesn’t still ride upon a donkey, yet we reenact his victorious entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to herald him as king.  Jesus no longer hangs on the cross, but we choose to depict him upon the crucifix to recall his act that changed the world.

While every day is a good day to remember his sacrifice, today seems extra appropriate.  Today I will fixate on the crucifix.

And come to think of it, I’m glad my crosses aren’t all empty.  I need that visual reminder.  In fact, I think I’ll go pull it out of the box and find a prominent place to hang it.  My crucifix might generate a few strange looks, some questioning comments and a little disagreement, but I pray it will also guide us to focus on why we even decorate with crosses in the first place.

Will you join me today as I fixate on the crucifix?