Many non-Catholic Christians have a hard time with the idea of a crucifix. They say things like “Why are you portraying Jesus on the cross? We serve a risen Lord!” Does a remembrance of the crucifixion take away from the triumph of the resurrection? Some folks seem to think so. I think it might be good to offer an explanation of why there’s nothing wrong with displaying a crucifix.
It is a mistake to view a crucifix as a statement that Jesus is literally at this moment still on the cross. Catholics do not think they are “keeping Him on the cross” any more than they’re “keeping Him in the manger” at Christmas time. If you’re a Christian who does not like crucifixes, take a moment to really ask yourself why. You may find that your criteria would also demand empty manger scenes.
Catholics not only acknowledge Christ’s resurrection from the dead, we place special emphasis on celebrating the event. For Catholics, Easter is not only a day, it’s a season that lasts fifty days each year. We do indeed serve a risen Lord!
A crucifix helps us remember and explain Christ’s sacrifice in a way that everyone can appreciate. It can be seen by those who are illiterate, touched by those who are blind, noted at a glance by those who lack an attention span. A crucifix portrays the climactic moment of all world history, in high-definition 3D.
This isn’t to say that there’s anything wrong with displaying a bare cross. Catholics display those too. Personally, I prefer the crucifix. Here are some reasons why:
- The cross itself was a Roman torture device, which by itself carries a message that is less specific than a crucifix. We want to remember every day what Christ did for us on the cross. Paul said, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).
- The crucifix is basically the gospel message of God’s love for mankind, spoken without words. It’s like the older version of those signs that say “John 3:16” and it communicates the message of God’s love with impact. Sure the crucifix can be offensive or difficult to understand, but so is an all-powerful God allowing Himself to be placed in a humiliating situation, tortured, and killed because of His overwhelming love for you. Does this bother you? Good. You should be bothered.
- The crucifix is a powerful reminder that keeps our faith in focus, lest we as Christians slide into despair, ingratitude, or expectation of too much comfort in this life. If we are suffering, He empathizes with us. If we face death, He offers us courage and hope. He endured the worst of it, for us, so that we can also endure for love’s sake even unto death.