Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Cross Is Not Pretty

The old adage is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  I am not so sure.  True that we all have our own taste and we like what we like but I am not sure that this is a good or fitting definition of beauty.  I had a shut in whose prize possession was a velour painting of a tiger.  It was something.  He thought it was beautiful.  It was his house and so he can hang what he wants and call it what he wants but it is not beautiful.  I have seen modern art that looked like paint was tossed on to the canvas and, without a hanger on the back, who would know what side was up.  I have stood there as people oohed and aaahhhed over its beautify.  Where?

We have a great tendency to clean up the cross and turn it from an instrument of death into a work of art -- a thing of beauty.  It is not a good thing to do.  The cross was never meant to be a thing of beauty.  It was created to be an instrument of death and God chose to use it as the place where His only Son would meet His death -- with the surprise that this death would end death's reign and have the power to give us life!  That surely transforms the cross but it does not make it beautiful.  There is no beauty in such deep suffering that the voice cries out "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani!"  The cross is not pretty but we continue to behold it and even raise it up because on it the salvation of the world was accomplished -- freely, without input or cost from us, and graciously imparted to unworthy and undeserving sinners.

Tomorrow it all begins.  Holy Week.  The palms and hosannas turn into the cross and cries of "crucify."  The events take up perhaps a third of all the Gospels and there is nothing pretty about what takes place.  Unlike the comforting and consoling images of Jesus carrying the lamb in His arms, we meet bloody sweat and betrayal, mocking homage and a kangaroo court, pressing crowds and a weak Roman governor, conspiring priests and an expedient death, a crown of thorns and a blood stained robe, sour drugged wine and heaving breaths, gracious words and whispered end, blood and water, a centurion's unlikely confession and a mother's grieving loss, a death like any other death and yet a death like none other...  It is a week of images not pretty but profound.

We have an urge to clean it up, explain it away, and then put it away so that we can enjoy Easter without remembering Good Friday.  But it will not be... As often as you eat of this bread and drink of this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes....  It is death that we have come to remember, death we have come to honor, and death that we proclaim.  Easter does not erase this terrible death or turn it into something beautiful but it points us to what was accomplished by this death that transfers forgiveness, life, and salvation to us -- teaching us to sing again the "Alleluia" for a time put aside that we might sing it again.

Beauty is not the purpose of the cross but redemption.  Dirty, messy, wounded, and dying sinners required a God who got dirty with them, who entered their mess, who was wounded for their transgressions, and suffered all -- even death -- for their sins and to purchase their redemption.  The cross is many things but pretty is not one of them.  As we prepare to walk the final footsteps of our Lenten journey, let us not try to whitewash where the journey goes or recast the cross into a piece of art.  It's beauty lies not in what it is, but in who was crucified there and what His suffering and death has won for us and for our salvation.

Soli Deo Gloria


Anonymous said...

The old rugged cross of rough wood
and blood stains is the cross of
Calvary. Unfortunately, we have made
this cross into a type of polished
gold jewelry. This distorts the
ugliness and cruelty of crucifixion
as a means of capital punishment for
our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to the Mel Gibson movie:
"The Passion of the Christ" you can
see the harsh torture and beating of
Christ. The bloody violence is a
reminder that Christ really did
suffer and die for our sins. Being
nailed to the cross is a haunting
spectacle to behold. All of this
demonstrates the tremendous LOVE
of our God for us.

tubbs said...

Thank You, Pastor, for one of the best sermons on the Cross that I've ever come across.

Kelly Klages said...

"Its beauty lies not in what it is, but in who was crucified there and what His suffering and death has won for us and for our salvation." So is it beautiful or not?

"Pretty" is another ball of wax; I certainly would not conflate it with "beauty."

Anonymous said...

Thanks to the Mel Gibson movie??

Gibson's affiliation with an almost cult-like form of Catholicism not connected to any mainline Catholic diocese had an influence on his movie, which he claimed was based on the revelations of "St." Anne Catherine Emmerich.

By comparison the New Testament is almost spare in its description of the crucifixion.

Anonymous said...



Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich was an Augustinian nun at the Convent of Agnetenberg, Dulmen, Westphalia, Germany. She lived between 1774 to 1824. During her life, God gave her extensive visions of the past, the present and the future. Many theologians believe that she received from God more visions than any other saint. The Sorrowful (Dolorous) Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ are the visions of Anne Catherine Emmerich concerning the horrific sufferings our Dear Lord Jesus Christ suffered in his work to save mankind. This includes the Last Supper, the Agony in the Garden, the Arrest, the Scourging the Crowning of Thorns, the Trial by Pontius Pilate, the Carrying of the Cross, the Crucifixion and the Dying on the Cross and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. They are incredibly, highly detailed and descriptive, revealing to us more information about the Life of Jesus Christ besides what we read of Him in the Bible. These excerpts are from the book: THE DOLOROUS PASSION OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST.

The addendum on the Resurrection, Ascension, Day of Pentecost and the Life of Mary after the Ascension of Christ are from the book: The Lowly Life and Bitter Passion of OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST AND HIS BLESSED MOTHER. Recorded in the Journals of Clemens Brentano, arranged and edited by the Very Reverend Carl E. Schmöger, C.SS.R.

Not what I'd call a particularly sound source for a Lutheran point of view, hm?

Terry Maher said...

And for that matter, private revelations to people, even when accepted as authentic by the RCC, are not mandatory for belief by Catholics.