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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Behold the Wood of the Cross

WASHINGTON (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, the 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 importance 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.

On Good Friday we venerate the 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.

What do we think of Christ? What place does He really occupy in our lives? How does His passion, death, resurrection, and revelation impact me profoundly?

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!

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