Why I have a crucifix

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As we prepare to celebrate Easter Sunday, I still find myself reflecting on the more somber hues of Good Friday. While we may be understandably eager to arrive at the joyous celebration of Christ’s Resurrection, we should not neglect to equally meditate on the profound significance of Christ’s sacrificial death at Calvary. Easter, in fact, becomes all the more euphoric an occasion when we have had time to adequately ponder the depths of humiliation and suffering to which Christ subjected Himself willingly for us at the Cross. And quite honestly I think the message of Good Friday is a good subject to keep in the forefront of our minds all year round. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:2—“For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” Perhaps we are more used to thinking of ourselves as a “Resurrection People”, whose lives have all been indelibly shaped by Christ’s defeat of death. And this is so true. There’s a great old Gospel song written by Bill Gaithers memorably reflects the way in which the truth of the Resurrection can shape our worldview. Entitled “Because He lives”, the chorus goes “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow/Because He lives, all fear is gone/Because I know He holds the future/And life is worth the living/Just because He lives!” By the same token though, we are also a “Crucifixion people”. Believers can face tomorrow, and life is worth living for the Christian, while fear is removed, and the future is secure due to the fact that we worship a God who was willing to die for us!!

Church historian Bruce L. Shelley has noted the utter uniqueness of the message of the Cross, which Good Friday celebrates: “Christianity is the only major religion to have as its central event the humiliation of its God.” So as much as I live in daily hope because of the message of the Resurrection, I am also constantly reassured by my reflections upon the Cross. For this reason, I keep a crucifix in my bedroom. As a Southern Baptist, I’ll admit that in our own church tradition the crucifix is rarely used, and is usually identified with Catholicism or other “high-church” denominations. This, to me is a shame, because I can think of few visual images that evoke more powerful emotions in me than the sight of the suffering Christ on the Cross. I think many churches could benefit from displaying a crucifix because the plain cross, for me at least, runs the risk of sometimes being reduced into a nice, figurative background motif or design. It is sanitized of the figure of the dying Jesus. But the cross is a literal image for me, where a very real, flesh and blood Man/God died a visceral, painful death for the consequences of my own sin.

Now I realize that some people may find crucifixes slightly “gory”, while some Protestants will argue also that a plain cross emphasizes the fact Jesus is not still suffering, and has risen. But without in any way minimizing the joy of the Resurrection, I think it is very important to retain a visual reminder of Jesus’ suffering on our behalves. The Celebration of the Lord’s Supper might provide a useful point of comparison here. As a Baptist, I reject transubstantiation, and instead view the Lord’s Supper as a memorial meal, rather than a literal process by which the elements become the Body and Blood of Christ . Related to this is my belief that Christ’s sacrifice is in no way repeated when communion is offered. His redemptive work has been completed once and for all, and Jesus’ cry of both resignation and triumph, “It is finished”, in John 19:30 proves this. And yet, whenever we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we do indeed reflect upon and remember the sacrificial death of Christ, while at the same time being fully aware that the sacrifice has been completed. So I do not think that a Cross bearing the image of our crucified Lord in any way diminishes the glory of the Resurrection, but rather keeps us mindful of the suffering that had to come before such glory could be obtained. In addition, the crucifix is not only a symbol of suffering—but also a representation of staggering love. This is a fact that many hymn writers have celebrated. One such song, “Written in Red” by Gordon Jensen, contains these lines, which have always stuck in my head since singing them as a child at First Baptist Montgomery:

“In letters of crimson God wrote His love

On a hillside so long, long ago

For you and for me Jesus died

And love’s greatest story was told

I love you, I love you

That’s what Calvary said

I love you, I love you

I love you written in red”

Another hymn, “Oh how He loves you and me” by Kurt Kaiser, was actually the subject once of a wonderful sermon series from my pastor when I lived in Texas, Matt Snowden at First Baptist Waco. Kaiser’s words, like Jensen’s capture with breathtaking simplicity the profound love that was at the heart of Good Friday:

“Oh, how He loves you and me,

Oh, how He loves you and me.

He gave His life, what more could He give;

Oh, how He loves you, Oh, how He loves me,

Oh, how He loves you and me.

 

Jesus to Calv’ry did go,

His love for mankind to show.

What He did there brought hope from despair.

Oh, how He loves you, Oh, how He loves me,

Oh how He loves you and me.”

 

I understand that for everyone it’s a personal matter concerning which religious imagery can help best instill in them a worshipful mood and sense of devotion. What works for one person might now work for another, just as everyone responds to different types of worship and praise music. But for me, the crucifix serves as an ever-present and powerful reminder that the Resurrection from the dead that I hope to one day experience was only made possible by the sacrificial mission of a Man whose arms were never open wider to embrace us, than at the Cross.

Finally, the crucifix is also a reminder to me of the daily sacrifices we are called upon to make in the imitation of Christ as believers. Jesus sets this task out for us in Luke 9:23—“If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” Paul continues with this theme, in Romans 6:6—“our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer by slaves of sin.”. Then in Galatians 5:24 he adds, “Those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” I remember reading once about a liberal Protestant pastor in San Francisco who had actually removed all crosses from the sanctuary of his church, terming it a symbol of “death.” But that is just the paradox at the heart Christianity—which is sadly misunderstood by so many. The Cross is indeed a symbol of death, but also of life and great love to all who will believe on it! It should prompt us to daily die to our old desires and sin nature, in order to live in the spirit of love which it also represents. When I celebrate Easter Sunday tomorrow, the joy of the empty tomb will be inseparable from the message of love written at Calvary. And the rays of an Easter sun will illuminate that crucifix upon my bedroom wall, filling my eyes and heart with the glory of God’s love.

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2 thoughts on “Why I have a crucifix

  1. Thanks for your personal worship experience shared. Good thoughts that are often emphasized less. Max Lucado in THE CROSS said: He
    would rather go to hell for than go to heaven without you!

    • Claire–Thanks as always for being a faithful reader of my blog! That is a great quote from Lucado, and I am indeed constantly amazed at the sheer magnitude of Christ’s love for us! I hope you had a blessed Easter with your family!

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