Do you even look? It is so easy to allow it to be part of the background, the décor of a church, school, or home. Maybe you even wear one; is it a decoration? Look again; what is it?
It is a crucifix, a graphic depiction of Jesus dying on the cross. It is not a blank cross, just the wood and the shape of the instrument of his death. It is not a statue of Jesus, standing or sitting or teaching or even rising from the dead. It is the central sacramental of our Faith, the most concise statement and reminder of Him in Whom we believe, and what He has done for love of us.
Because of its consistent importance from the beginning of the Church, the earliest surviving crucifixion scene is an expression of mockery of a Christian and his faith. From a barracks wall in Rome in the early 200’s, someone name Alexamenos is depicted “worship(ping) his god,” crucified with the head of a donkey:
But within two hundred years, in the early fifth century, a short distance away the same gruesome scene is depicted with devotion and zeal for souls on the massive carved doors of the church of Santa Sabina:
Outrageous still to many in that time, and still in our own, the depiction of a criminal execution being held up as the saving act of the One True God is too easy for us to take for granted. But this weekend, we stop to look.
Perhaps it seems odd that for us to look the crucifix at the focal point of our church be veiled from view. But its hiddenness helps us to see. As we stand for the proclamation of the Passion of Our Lord, our ears discern anew what has become obscure to our over-indulged eyes, and we see with our hearts the great act of love that Jesus accomplishes for us.
Listen to your heart, which will share more readily in the pain and sorrow. Respond in faith fortified by love, overflowing with grief, guilt, and gratitude. This mysterious work of God is even now claiming us back from the vault of death and destruction, remedying the sins whose remedy we ourselves fail to achieve, or sometimes even desire.
Listen, then, this weekend, and listen on Good Friday, to our only hope. Listen to the love of God become flesh so that He might die for us, while we are still sinning. Listen, and believe. Listen, and see. And having seen with your heart, place once again at the central point of your home and of your life the image Jesus’ saving love. Every time you pass, by all means, look.