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Posted: 4/15/2014
The Cross and The Crucifix
My Crucifix
My Crucifix

For Christmas 2012, my wife gave me a gift of a crucifix on a neck chain. I can't say it was a surprise gift; I had specified the kind, and actually picked out the one to be my Christmas present.

My only serious debate was whether I wanted the simple, "bare" cross or a crucifix. By this Reflection's title, obviously I decided on a crucifix, the cross with the crucified Christ on it. I write this as Holy Week with its Good Friday approaches, and want to share why I chose the crucifix. Not that my thoughts might be guidance to anyone else, but I want to share my story and rationale. A few reasons in my decision are a bit superficial, but a couple hold deep meaning for me.

I don't wear jewelry (other than my wedding ring). I like jewelry on others, especially on women; but, jewelry is not me. Some might view it differently, but the cross with the Corpus Christi seems less like a piece of jewelry than the usual bare cross. So, I chalked up a few (very few) points for a crucifix.

Another reason has to do with wanting to be a bit contrarian. I'm about as middle-of-the-road as they come, but sometimes it feels good to act a tad differently. I have always been a protestant (Disciples of Christ, American Baptist, now Anglican/Episcopalian -- see the FAQs for my faith background), and most protestants (but definitely not all) who wear a cross, wear the simple cross type. Most Catholics, although not mandated, wear the crucifix. So, another nudge for me toward wanting a crucifix.

My decision was not based on simply cosmetic and personal preferences; there was some deeper thought. I realize the empty cross does represent a key component of my faith and that of most Christians: Christ is risen! Even the cruel death on the cross cannot hold him. And, because of Christ's death and resurrection, I (and we) have the hope of salvation and eternal life with him.

Lenten Crucifix at Good Sam
Church of the Good Samaritan's processional crucifix veiled in purple during lent.

The crucifix, though, with its suffering body, bluntly keeps in my mind the price that salvation costs. God gives us the gift of grace, and it is not a cheap grace that God gives. God's grace to us is costly, paid not by the cross but by the suffering and dying one on that cross. When I see the crucifix pass by in each Sunday's processional/recessional, and when I look at my crucifix, the reality of costly grace hits home.

A final reality convinced me that it was a crucifix I wanted. The convincing reality was that the suffering Christ on the cross is, for me, the picture of what love looks like. What does it look like to love another? What does it look like to love our enemies? Look at the crucifix and see! Oh, that we hope that kind of love will not call us to give our very lives; but, we realize by looking at the cross that the love Jesus embodies and teaches is of the type that washes another's feet, that gladly bears burdens, takes risks for the other, and perhaps demands the ultimate.

A king who dies on the cross must be the king of a rather strange kingdom. Only those who understand the profound paradox of the cross can also understand the whole meaning of Jesus' assertion: My kingdom is not of this world.
Dietrich BonhoefferFrom "Lectures to the Congregation in Barcelona," in Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, vol. 10, 357.
When I see the cross or crucifix held high leading the processional or recessional, I think of how counterintuitive is our Christian faith. A victorious procession of the body of believers should be led by the conquering hero on a white horse; a Superman-type proclaiming truth, justice, and the American Way! Or maybe at least a parade of Jesus on the donkey with palm branches waving. But, no. The Christian processional is led by a cross of resurrection victory made possible by the suffering and death that happened on that cross. Our faith's processional is lead by a crucifix, the blunt reality of the cross in human terms.

Many look for a faith to follow that is not something ordinary; they look for a faith that is radical. Doesn't seem you get more radical that what the Christian processional symbolizes!

Latin Cross I hope nothing in my rationale for choosing the crucifix suggests I think the crucifixion overshadows the resurrection. Nothing can surpass the symbolism of the empty, resurrection cross: the glory of Christ's resurrection and our hope of eternal life with him! (Had I chosen the traditional cross to wear, I imagine I could write many paragraphs to explain my decision.)

But, I wonder whether we can fully understand and hold in reverence the glorious resurrection cross without internalizing the meaning of the crucifix?

Since receiving my crucifix Christmas 2012, I haven't taken it off. I like to think this symbolizes that Christ is bound to me and that I am bound to Christ.

Truth be told, though, a part of my "bound to Christ" symbolism may have less to do with my spirituality than it does with my difficulty figuring out how to operate that darn clasp. I'm all thumbs with delicate things like that.

But also truthfully, I haven't worked very hard with the clasp.

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