Friday, January 02, 2015


During the years I was a fundamentalist Christian, I was taught to regard crucifixes with ambivalence--if not downright scorn.  "Why do the Catholics insist on keeping Jesus on the cross?" the preachers used to chide, "He is risen!  He is no longer on the cross!"  True, he is risen indeed, and if one's atonement theology centers around a cosmic transaction whereby the Father poured his wrath upon his son in our stead and perpetrated the ultimate bait-and-switch in which Satan was tricked into handing over the hostages (all of humanity), then a vacant cross and an empty tomb do seem like better indicators of that accomplishment.

Plus, let's face it, sometimes crucifixes are downright creepy--seemingly designed to induce horror and guilt and shame, as if Jesus is hanging there saying "You did this to me!"  Or, perhaps even more disturbing, "God did this to me!"

I'm a Quaker now, and we Quakers tend to eschew altogether the display of the cross--with or without Jesus on it.  This is because we emphasize that Christ is real and present and at work in our midst right here and right now.

But in recent years I've come to reevaluate my feelings about crucifixes and have gained an appreciation.  I have been helped in this by scholars such as Richard Horsely (Jesus and Empire), John Howard Yoder (The Politics of Jesus), Walter Wink (The Powers that Be), Ched Myers (Binding the Strongman: A Political Reading of Mark's Story of Jesus) and Denny Weaver (The Nonviolent Atonement).  I've come to see that the crucifix depicts and symbolizes not God's abandonment of Jesus but rather Jesus's identification with humankind.  The agonized and forelorn Christ on the cross signifies God's solidarity with the desolate, the hopeless, the outcast, the marginalized, the oppressed, the mocked, the accused, the tortured, the condemned.  To see Jesus hanging on the cross reminds me, not that God required a blood sacrifice to satisfy some immutable cosmic law or that I'm a wretched scumbag who caused the death of an innocent, but that Jesus--who is the revelation of God--chose freely to cast his lot with the powerless and to nonviolently subvert the human systems of oppression, knowing full well that those in control would seek to destroy him for doing so.  Seeing the crucifix in this way makes me feel awe and gratitude rather than self-loathing.  It also makes me feel positively challenged by the invitation to take up my cross and likewise follow Jesus in this ongoing mission which he called "the kingdom of God."

A few months ago a friend, an Italian artist, presented me with a crucifix she had made.  It now resides on one of my bookcases, in front of my set of A People's History of Christianity.  The cross appears to be wrapped in gift-paper.  It is beautiful and vibrant and hopeful, which I realize now is not at all incongruent for a crucifix. 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am wanting to set this Easter aside for worship and contemplation. I was raised a fundamentalist Christian home and feel that there must be something more profound in the message of the cross than what is usually said from these pulpits. I have been exploring the Quakers (the religion of my birthfather) and feel this post is a beautiful meditation. Thanks

4:46 AM  

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