Crucifixion Rediscovered.

I had the joy of participating in two events over the weekend taking place at a beautiful Catholic church.  On the way to the events, my daughter asked me what the difference was between the Catholic and Lutheran faiths.  After first highlighting what makes them similar, I went through a few of the differences.  One of which is that you will often see a crucifix in a Catholic church, but a cross (without an image of Christ on it) in a Lutheran church.  I explained that Catholics focus very much on the painful sacrifice that Christ made, while Lutherans focus very much on the incredible victory achieved through His resurrection.  But I noted that it would be easy for either faith to focus on either one of those too much since both are so critical.  We talked about the fact that one is equally important as the other.

So here I was in this amazing building, so beautiful that just sitting there imagining how it was built was a form of worship.  Staring above me was a crucifix of incredible detail.  I was literally face to face with an image of incredible physical suffering.  It was a poignant reminder of something we really do not focus on as much in the Lutheran faith.  We don’t ignore it.  But we don’t focus on it.  It is at least not a central image in our sanctuaries.  I was reminded that Christ went through hell for me.  At one point literally went through hell itself.  But even on earth he went through a physical hell for me.  For me.  Me personally.

Something for us to consider.  We can argue about a lot.  Is the communion wafer actually the body of Christ, and if so, at what moment does this occur?  Should communion be made available to anyone who professes to accept Christ or is it proper to limit it to members of a particular faith?  Is a wedding outside of a particular faith really a wedding at all?  The loftier issues of gay marriage, women as clergy, contraception, abortion.  These are questions that are worth answering.  But before we wrap ourselves up in too much debate, it can be a peaceful process to simply look on as others worship.  And experience it.  Just experience it.  There was a sense of loss for me looking at the crucifix over the weekend.  A sense of loss that can be easy to forget when celebrating the resurrection each weekend.  I would imagine that a Catholic might feel a sense of victory in looking at the empty cross of our Risen Lord at my church some weekend.  A sense of victory that might be easy to forget from time to time.

I don’t subscribe to the watered down statement that it doesn’t matter what or how we worship because everyone is basically right.  I think it is possible to get worship wrong.  And I think it’s worth talking about in order to get it right.  But sometimes it can be good to simply worship through a different lens.  And I’m thankful I had that opportunity this weekend.

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3 thoughts on “Crucifixion Rediscovered.

  1. Bill says:

    One other point I wanted to make regarding the Eucharist. That was a tough one for me to wrap my head around – the idea…actually, I learned – the misconception – that the wafer becomes Christ’s body and the wine His blood. The way my instructor explained it made sense to me. In the Catholic faith, we don’t believe the wafer becomes His body and the wine His blood LITERALLY, we believe it does so FIGURATIVELY. This made all the difference to me. The idea is, partaking in the Eucharist is a very sacred and holy event, the Holy Spirit is there, present in that wafer and wine – it’s divine, not just a cracker and some wine. The place a parishioner goes is a holy place, a place to solemnly reflect again on the Crucifixion. When Christ said “take this, my body, and eat it. Take this cup of my blood, and drink from it”, he is saying in very real, holy words to “become like me” in thought and action, let the Divinity of Christ enter your mind, your heart, your soul with actual, physical things (wafer, wine).

    But Catholics do not (or should not) believe it’s ACTUALLY, LITERALLY FLESH AND BLOOD. That’s a misinterpretation of the message if someone does believe that.

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    • Sorry I never thanked you for your comment! I’m still figuring out this blogging thing. But thank you so much for your perspective on this. I think “perspective” is something that we lose so easily especially when we talk about faith. We see life from our view, read some scripture, and create a formula that “should” work for everyone else. Then we go about the business of beating them over the head with our formula. But that’s just not how it works. We need to tell OUR stories. And I thank you for yours. Take care brother. God bless you.

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  2. Bill says:

    Wonderful post! I would like to share my thoughts along the journey of conversion from the Lutheran faith into the Catholic faith, a journey that is still in progress. I had some misconceptions about the Catholic faith when I set off on my conversion journey several weeks ago, and have since given it a lot of thought, examination, study, and conversation with the leader of my RCIA classes. One misconception is about the sharing of the Eucharist by non-Catholics. In our church, this is a tradition they hold firm to, as they do with same-sex marriage. In other catholic churches, the Eucharist may be shared by all who believe Christ died for our sins, Catholic or not. It depends on the church. Just as there are Protestant churches that perform same-sex marriage ceremonies and those that do not. It depends on the church. As far as same sex marriage goes across all Catholic churches, I do not believe any recognize or perform the ceremony, which is something I disagree with, but not something that will drive me from the church. There is still a whole lot of philosophy, tradition and message that DOES resonate with me, and my support of same sex marriage is steadfast and strong both from a legal and religious perspective, but not one my church agrees with. So, on that point I choose to agree to disagree, and move on to do God’s work in whatever way I am called to do.

    So – let me continue. One misconception I had was that Catholics observe the crucifix – in particular the corpus imagery of Christ himself hanging there – as a way to constantly be reminded of His pain and suffering. Period. A way to make everyone feel really guilty that they aren’t doing enough, they never will. While that’s not an entirely false conception of the “why”, it’s only a partial one that misses the target, but hits the tree. Sort of.

    The reason Catholics revere the crucifix is also because it serves as a reminder for all of us to sacrifice ourselves for the good of others, not out of a sense of guilt, but a sense of human compassion and tenderness. Out of love. Obviously, this does not mean we are all called to suffer a horrific, suffering death at the hands of others – but it does mean we are here to serve and sacrifice ourselves for others, out of the same kind of love Jesus had for each and every one of us. He died knowing that He is setting an example for us to model our lives after – not so we can praise his rise from death and hell, then go home to catch the game at noon. The crucifix, the signing of the cross before and after certain prayers, the kneeling, are all ancient, traditional ways to remind us that this is not just about praise – this is about what each of us are called to do, with everyone, every day.

    I think it’s this core tenet of Catholicism that has drawn me in.

    My journey is only beginning, once I am “confirmed Catholic” in a few months, that isn’t the end of my path. The REAL journey is finding ways to serve my fellow brothers and sisters in HUMANITY (not just Catholicism). That’s the cross I choose to bear quietly, in humble servitude to others – not broadcasting it loudly to everyone can cry at my feet at my huge sacrifice. The reason I think many Christians, certainly Catholics, believe the crucifixion happened was to serve as an example that would stand the test of time. Something that would put into focus what one man allowed to be done to his body – for us. For me, for you, for the guy in front of you at Starbucks or the woman suffering on the sidewalk asking for help. What did not resonate for me in other Christian faiths was (to your point) not that they refused to acknowledge the death of Christ, which is ridiculous. Rather, what didn’t sit right with me was the almost exclusive focus on the praise of Jesus, the wonder and mystery of his rising from the dead, and the empty cross. We Catholics also revere and are awed by those things, as Protestants revere and are awed by the suffering element of what Christ gave us, it’s more a matter of what to lay down as our core, bedrock foundational philosophy, our primary (but not exclusionary!) focus and path to divinity: through praise or through self sacrifice.

    Paula and I have chosen the message of self sacrifice as a primary, not secondary, focus of our family – and the Catholic church just feels like…home to us.

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