Tuesday, January 7, 2014
What kind of cross. . .
The parish I serve has one of those terrible figures of the risen Christ. It was not my first choice but it was a compromise with those who insisted that it be an empty cross or none at all. Teaching is progressive by steps just as the departure from orthodox teaching and life is regressive by steps. Living in a Southern city in which the vast majority of your neighbors are Baptist, Church of Christ, Nazarene, or some variation on a non-denominational theme, the idea of any figure of Christ on the cross is a scandal -- just as the cross itself is or should be a scandal. But we have confused the scandal of the cross not simply by removing the figure of Christ from it but by imagining that our Lord's resurrection somehow erases the suffering and displaces His death. This has led to a Gospel of redemption without Christ's suffering and forgiveness by decree and not because our Lord paid the awful price of sin with His blood.
I would certainly have preferred a regular crucifix but this parish had never had one, the culture in which we lives finds it hard to accept, and there is no need to make a hill a place to die when it might become an occasion of teaching. Thus the end result was a figure of the risen Christ on a cross. Perhaps at some point down the road it might be replaced with a regular crucifix. I do not know. There are a couple of crucifixes in the chancel and one by the baptistry so it is not like the crucifix is absent. Our processional cross has a bronze figure of the suffering Christ -- all of these together represent a dramatic improvement over the previous chapel which had no art work whatsoever and one empty cross on the altar that faded into the colored glass window behind it (oh, yes, there is a red colored glass cross in that window).
My personal preference is Christ on the cross in His priestly robes -- sort of like Christ in a chasuble. I like it simply because of the association of that suffering and the fruits it has borne with the means of grace ministry of the Pastor.
In the end I would be happy to see any one of these three or any variation of them as the principal cross in the chancels of Lutheran parishes across the world. Whether it is a crucifix of some type or a painted triptych with the figure of Christ on the cross prominently displayed (some very fine examples in Germany), it is certainly a great improvement over the thin, unsubstantial crosses that end of saying little and being eminently forgettable as symbols of the preached Christ.