Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Baptist Crucifix

There are a lot of people who do not know what a crucifix is. I heard about a girl shopping at the jewelry counter in a department store. She was thinking of buying a cross. The young sales clerk brought out a velvet tray with an assortment of gold, silver, and jeweled crosses, and asked, "Would you like a plain cross or one with a little man on it?"

When I was growing up, I was taught to dislike crucifixes. I wasn't told why. It is strange to think back on it, because I was raised in a church. But I was raised in a Protestant church. We didn't believe in crucifixes. Much later Baptists  explained it to me, "The Catholics have Jesus on the cross, whereas we believe that Jesus is risen!" Well, it turns out that Catholics believe in the resurrection also, but they focus a lot on the crucifixion. Not a bad place to rest your mind... especially during Lent.

As I contemplate the cross, I imagine what a person would see in it if they had no story about Jesus to go with the image - like the clerk who knew him only as "the little man." A crucifix is an image of torture, a man dying a painful death. If you didn't know the gospel story, that is all you would see: suffering and death caused by others.

Let's just stick with that idea for a moment without adding the church overlay. The cross is the extinguishing of a human life. Maybe that is why Marc Chagall painted Jesus on a cross so often. Not because he was a closet Christian, but because it reminded him of the Holocaust. He saw a Jew being killed. He saw a Jewish crucifix.  He saw himself.

When I see the cross, I see myself. A Baptist crucifix. The extinguishing of everything that I call me. The spiritual life is about dying - the death of self. Man stripped bare, having nothing left, not even one's pride, not even oneself. The apostle Paul said that Christ "emptied himself" in order to go to the cross. He emptied himself until there was nothing left. "He made himself nothing." When nothing is left, in the space that remains is God.

In the cross man is gone, and what's left is the intersection of two perpendicular lines. An X where an I used to be. John the Baptist pointed to Jesus and said, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" He then said, again pointing to Jesus, "He must increase; I must decrease."

That is the cross. I decrease. He increases. I am no more. He is. There is just the cross, pointing to heaven, pointing to God, pointing to the One who made himself nothing yet is the great I AM.

Artwork is Marc Chagall's White Crucifixion, oil on canvas, 1938.

No comments:

Post a Comment