Crosses come in all sizes, shapes and material. Some are jeweled, others are intricately carved. Good Friday brings us back to the reality that it is about a wooden cross and, more importantly, about the One who died upon it.
"John Paul II . . . on Good Friday before his death, carried the cross in his hands. The cross. We no longer saw the face of Wojtyla which we saw for many years. We saw only from behind - the image of him and the cross in his hands, because he was a man who really clung to the cross, saying, 'This is the road that will make you free,'" Monsignor Jaroslaw Ceilecki
WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - When Catholics and Protestants have opportunities to talk about their Christian faith, at some point the topic will turn to the crucifix versus the cross. The Protestant argument usually ends (or sometimes begins) with the words - "but don't you know that Christ was raised from the dead?"
Apart from the fact that, yes. we know that. we believe that with all of hearts. That particular question does not really address the real issue.
In a few such conversations I confess that I have defaulted to an equally inane response. "Well, if you really want to celebrate the fact that Jesus rose from the dead, why don't you wear an empty tomb around your neck?"
By the way, a few years ago I did a web search and found a company called Empty Tomb Jewelry. Case closed!
Seriously though, the issue of the cross and the crucifix is one that points to an important point. The cross has absolutely no significant apart from the One who hung upon it the first Good Friday. Countess lives were lost on the cross over a large span of time. It was the "torture of choice" for the Romans and yet those deaths did not give rise to any embrace of this image.
In his meditations for the Way of the Cross, which he wrote while still a cardinal in 1976, Blessed John Paul II says, "'They have pierced my hands and feet, I can count all my bones.' (Ps 22:16-17).
"'I can count...' How prophetic were these words! And yet we know that this body is a ransom. The whole of this body, its hands, its feet, its every bone, is a priceless ransom. The Whole Man is in a state of utmost tension: his bones, his muscles, his nerves, his every organ and every cell, is stretched and strained to breaking-point. 'I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.' (Jn 12:32)
"These words express the full reality of the crucifixion. And part of this reality is the terrible tension penetrating Christ's hands, feet and every bone: driving its way into the entire body which, nailed like a mere thing to the beams of the Cross, is about to be utterly annihilated in the convulsive agony of death.
"And the whole of the world, which Jesus wills to draw to himself, enters into the reality of the Cross. The world is dependent on the gravitational pull of this body, which inertia now causes to sink lower and lower."
On Good Friday we venerate this cross - a word that means honor, esteem, adoration, or regard very highly. Yet, the liturgy betrays the reason. "Behold the wood of the Cross on which hung the salvation of the world."
The cross alone is a wonderful Christian symbol, but leaves no challenge to the beholder. Crosses are worn by people of all walks of life and all conditions of life. It has become an item of adornment as well as a Christian symbol. The scandal begins when Salvation is hung upon it.
The crucifix calls people to a decision. a decision about the Lord Jesus Christ, who hung upon the Cross, becoming the salvation of the world. People must choose what to do about Him, whether to accept His death and, with it, the fullness of all that He revealed, or to reject Him.
A nineteenth century Baptist evangelist, D.L. Moody, captured the heart of this confrontation in a sermon entitled "What Think Ye of Christ?" He guided his hearers through a serious of interviews, including those who were present for His passion and death. To each one - the Pharisees, Caiaphas, Pilate, Judas, the Centurion at the cross, the Apostles - he asked the key question, "What think ye of Christ?" Each one answered in kind.
The crucifix continues to call us, Catholic, Protestant, and all the sorts and conditions of humanity, to respond. Our response should not just be based on what is found in our liturgies, but more importantly what is found in our hearts. It is there, in the very core of our being that the question must be settled.
When speaking to 7,000 young Catholics in the Archdiocese of Madrid two years before World Day in 2011, the Holy Father declared, "Christ defeated sin and death by the total giving of Himself. For this reason, we must embrace and adore the Lord's cross, make it our own, accept its weight as Simon of Cyrene did, in order to participate in the only thing that can redeem all of humanity."
On the Good Friday before his death, Blessed John Paul II was too weak to attend the liturgy He sent the faithful a person message, which, in part, said, "The adoration of the Cross directs us to a commitment that we cannot shirk: the mission that St Paul expressed in these words: "[I]n my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church" (Col 1:24).
"I also offer my sufferings so that God's plan may be completed and his Word spread among the peoples. I, in turn, am close to all who are tried by suffering at this time. I pray for each one of them.
"On this memorable day of Christ's crucifixion, I look at the Cross with you in adoration, repeating the words of the liturgy: 'O crux, ave spes unica!' Hail, O Cross, our only hope, give us patience and courage and obtain peace for the world!"
What do we think of Christ? What place does He really occupy in our lives? How profoundly does His passion, death, resurrection, and revelation impact me?
During Lent the Church visits the Christ's Passion and Death through the Stations of the Cross. Each each station the minister says, "We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you." To which we respond, "Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world."
This is why we don't wear an empty tomb around our necks. Resurrection without a Redeemer is merely a restoration of life. When the cross is added, it is for the life of the world!
Randy Sly is the Associate Editor of Catholic Online and the CEO/Associate Publisher for the Northern Virginia Local Edition of Catholic Online (http://virginia.catholic.org). He is a former Archbishop of the Charismatic Episcopal Church who laid aside that ministry to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church.
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