Earlier this week, this post got me thinking about crosses and crucifixes…
As one recently come from mainstream Evangelicalism, one of stark contrasts of Lutheranism is the use of a crucifix (i.e. a cross with Jesus on it). What is a bit of a paradox is that while Evangelicals of all flavors love to sing about the cross, they are amazingly quick to reject crucifixes outright. What is more, some of the best hymns (“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” Isaac Watts) and worst hymns (“There is Power in the Blood,” Lewis Jones) sing of Jesus’ crucifixion…but in the same breath, Evangelicals can sing these words and then quip something along the lines of, “My Savior isn’t on the cross anymore!”
Call me crazy, but isn’t this just a bit inconsistent? How is it perfectly suitable to sing of the cross again and again while so vehemently rejecting its depiction?
Some folks thoughtlessly reject the crucifix as being ‘too Catholic.’ Whatever. Some argue that it violates God’s commandment against graven images. Though this objection sounds plausible on the surface, I reject it too–another topic for another day. What I think is at the root of our objection to crucifixes is the offense of crucifixion and the scandal of the cross itself. No, we won’t admit to it, but deep down there is a part of us that recoils at the horror of crucifixion and wonders how and why a loving God could subject his own son to such a torturous death for crimes (sins) he did not commit. The non-believing world rejects the Passion as folly or madness. Unfortunately, many of us try not to think about it too deeply, lest we be taken aback as well.
The cross is not a thing of beauty, it is an item of torture and capital punishment. What makes if ‘wonderful,’ to quote Watts, is that there is where Law and Gospel collided for all of time. There is where the only sacrifice suitable for washing away the sins of the world was made, once for all. It is scandalous…but it is also completely gracious. The cross is our salvation.
Unfortunately, the folly of those who reject the use of crucifixes comes to the fore during the other major festival of the church, Christmas. As pointed out here and here, why are those who reject Jesus’ depiction on a crucifix so quick to depict him in a nativity scene? He is neither on the cross nor in a manger. If we’re concerned about commandment breaking, both would equally violate God’s law. I fall back on my position, stated above. We reject crucifixes because we recoil from having that unimaginable pain and suffering displayed before our eyes–even that pain and suffering that wrought our very salvation. A baby in a manger, on the other hand, is cute, sweet, and relatively tame.
May your Good Friday not be Christ-less but Christ-filled as we mediatate on the Passion of our Lord and our gracious salvation from sin and death!