John 19:18 (NIV) “There they crucified him, and with him two others–one on each side and Jesus in the middle.”
During a recent road trip, Liz and I found a Roman Catholic parish with an interesting, life-size crucifix close to a busy sidewalk. As I stood in front of the crucifix in awe, I fell into a deep, meditative state in which I pondered on the many meanings of such a majestic symbol.
For the average Evangelical Lutheran, the crucifix is one of those traditional vestiges from back when we were Roman Catholics. When I began to serve as a Lutheran minister, an “old-school” Lutheran informed me of how the crucifix that hung from my neck was “Not Lutheran.” She also did me the favor of explaining that, “Lutherans only used empty crosses because Jesus is no longer crucified, but risen from the dead.”
I thought about her proposition and then asked: “Did Jesus rise from the Cross or from the grave?” She gasped at the question before her, and after a few seconds of consideration, she looked me straight in the eye and said: “Well, from the grave, Pastor!”
“Well then,” I said, “If what we’re trying to say is that Jesus rose from the grave, then shouldn’t we hang graves on our necks instead?” I think that night I gave my beloved sister something to ponder about…
But anyway, the empty cross or crucifix are symbols that mean exactly the same thing- the death of Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross for our sins. But the crucifix with the corpus carries a deeper, hidden theology that is at the foundation of the Christian Faith.
The symbolical teachings of the crucifix are too many to explain through this venue, but the following are some of the things I am reminded of:
- I stand before the crucifix as an image of the Image of God. That as His image, I am called to walk like Jesus walked (1John2:6), but for me to effectively do that, that I must be crucified with Christ and yield total control to Him. (Galatians 2:20)
- The navel of Christ serves as a reminder that Jesus is our brother. That He has experienced what it means to be born a human being.
- What seems to be a spear-wound on Jesus’ right side, is actually the opposite of what would be a spear-wound on the side of our hearts. Like in the case of St. Mary (Luke 2:35), every sincere Christian who forsakes the world to follow Christ, will suffer the heartache of broken relationships and condemnation. In other words, that discipleship (to follow Lord Jesus) is costly.
- Jesus was able to forgive because He knew what His ultimate outcome would be- to sit glorified at the right hand of God the Father. On the crucifix, Jesus’s head usually leans toward His right side. This would correspond with our left side. The crucifix reminds us to “look left” where God is seated and where we rule at His right side. If Christ can forgive us for our sins, then how can we not forgive the petty sins of others?
- The victorious crown of the Christian disciple is to endure unjust suffering for the Name of Christ.
Now tell me… What does the crucifix say to you?