A while back I heard somebody talking about a gift she once received, it was a handmade cross painted in purple with little pink flowers all over it. She liked it so much so that she put it where everybody could see it. At the time, I thought of it as a nice gesture by whomever took the time to make a beautiful cross to be given away as a meaningful gift.
While reading an article by an Australian surgeon named Dr. Andreas Lambrianides about the practice of crucifixion by ancient Romans, the purple cross came back to mind. What I realized was that I too have fallen into the trap of domesticating the Cross. The Cross is not meant to be purple, green or yellow; it is not meant to be decorative or exuberant, it represents a device used for one of the most cruel and excruciating punishments ever devised by man. For Christians, it is a constant reminder that, “He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24). Jesus Christ paid the price for Salvation with His own body and blood by dying on a cross, and even today His blood cleanses and nourishes the Church, His body.
Blood is not a pleasant thing to be around, lots of people are scared or grossed out at its sight. Though the Church has a very healthy relationship with the Blood of Christ, it seems like it also acknowledges the weariness of many of its members to look at a tortured body covered in blood. Everyday I walk into my local church with my sorrows and anxieties. Deep inside me I know well that God understands my pain for He Himself experienced the anguish felt only by human beings.
Every once in a while I would like to see what Jesus was agonizing about, so I look up to the Cross hanging above the altar. There I see Jesus as if somebody gently hung Him on a cross soon after He took a shower, hardly any blood to be seen anywhere, no bruises on the body either except for a slight piercing on the right chest. Though these types of images are much more appealing and aesthetically pleasing to the human eye, they totally miss the point. Jesus was flogged with a flagellum, a short whip consisting of several heavy leather thongs with small balls of lead attached to the end of each thong, prior to the Crucifixion. The end result was shredded skin with ribbons of skin hanging off. In addition, He also fell three times on the rocky roads while carrying a heavy wooden cross and wearing a thorny crown. It was about him the prophet lamented, “Like one from whom you turn your face” (Isaiah 53:3).
The Crucifixion should never be about providing a sense of tranquility to anybody who dare to look at it. We shouldn’t be afraid of vividly portraying the agony and pain of God’s death on a cross for it should never offer a false hope of serenity and bliss to the followers of Christ. Christianity should never be about a shelter from trials and tribulations because it’s foundation is soaked in the blood of God born man, for ” Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). God never offered protection from sufferings, instead He promised to be with us in our suffering to deliver us from it and to restore us. The comfort must be from the awareness that the Crucifixion represents a God who faced such pain and agony, rather than avoiding it. What should be consoling is to know that “ For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Jesus saw each one of us and prayed for us while hanging there on the Cross. That also means we were all standing there at the foot of the cross and watch Jesus dying. We crucified Him to pay for our sins. We can try and wash our hands clean to avoid being responsible for His death, but His blood cannot be washed away with water; it is His blood that cleanses water and everything else out there. We need to learn to see the cross as something we have done, something we have caused. And that’s definitely not the cross colored in purple with pink flowers on it, but the wooden cross covered with the blood of Christ, the cross we have made it with our own hands. A Crucifix without a tangled body covered in blood cannot be about redemption, it cannot be about God’s love in the face of rejection and betrayal.
P.S. I wonder why no one has thought about providing small bags of baking soda with those Nativity scenes we buy during Christmas season? Shouldn’t there be something to mask the stench of animal droppings and urine from the stable where the Savior of the world was born?
© 2013. Emmanuel Joseph. All Rights Reserved.