Friday, October 03, 2008

Geometrical or Incarnational?

I was recently in a Lutheran church and noticed up in the chancel a lot of geometrical shapes. There were shield-like shapes, some other weird shapes and a cross shape. As I looked at these weird shield-shapes (I don't know if they have an actual name or not) I was struck by how strange this phenomenon is. I've often noticed it in stained glass windows too. Colored glass in strange shapes with no real meaning. It seems rather odd that a church would be into something that doesn't enhance the Gospel with clear depictions of what the Gospel is.

This, I think, is one of the real problems with a simple, empty cross. I've heard the argument made several times by clergy and laity, "We worship the risen Christ!" but that just doesn't hold water. Especially at Christmas, when so many Christians delight in nativity scenes with depictions of the Holy Family, the shepherds, wisemen, sheep, camels, manger, angels, etc. I have never heard anyone complain about these images, rather, they are often held as dear and salutary depictions of Christ's incarnation for us. But isn't this what a cross with our Lord on it is as well?

There is a real danger, and I believe we can easily see the fruits of it in the church today, of making the Gospel into some kind of geometrical abstraction that anyone can find meaning in, be it true or false. The cross is certainly dear to us, but it is just a shape. It is not the thing that saves us, but rather He who died on it is our only hope of salvation and forgiveness of sins. A cross is a shape, like weird shield-shapes, or a circle or a square. When we take Christ off of the cross we run a real danger of taking Him out of our Gospel as well.

I love the cross of Jesus Christ, for through it the gates of paradise have been opened up to humanity. A simple, plain cross can remind me of that just as well as a crucifix. But please, don't tell me that I don't worship Christ crucified for sinners! Don't tell me Christ is no longer on that cross! Don't force the God of the Incarnation off of His throne! In so doing, you will loose that sweet message of forgiveness through the merit and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

I worship an incarnational God who put on flesh and lived like me in all ways except sinning. I worship a God who loves me with such ferocity that He would hang in torment on that beautiful cross and bear the full weight of the sins of the world. Please, don't take Him off of that cross.


Anonymous said...

I would like to put in a complaint about mangers, "baby Jesus" statues, and all other forms of you can't say you've never heard anyone complain about them!

Chuck Wiese said...

I think the strangest thing about the argument about using the empty cross because we worship a risen savior is that the cross is not a symbol of the resurrection at all. It is a symbol of the crucifixion whether or not Jesus is depicted on it. The cross would still be empty if Jesus was never resurrected. An empty tomb would be the appropriate symbol for those who say they only worship the resurrected Christ.

Rev. Jim Roemke said...

Now, if I would have expected anyone to complain it would have been Laura ;) Shame on Jesus for coming in the image of a man! Shame on the Holy Spirit for appearing in the image of a dove and tongues of fire at Pentecost! I am totally getting little Lydia an icon for her baptism gift :P

Chuck, very good points. By using the logic that an empty cross points us to the risen Christ we could also say it points us to the unrepentant theif or any other of the hundreds of thousands of people crucified throughout history.

Anonymous said...

I guess I come from a very different mentality on these things. I've never thought of the bare cross as a symbol of the resurrection, but when I see the bare cross it always immediately reminds me of Christ's suffering and Crucifixion. When I was a girl and in a church that had both "kinds" of crosses, that is always what it reminded me of. The crucifix itself, however, always put the focus more on the image for me (and this was LONG before i ever thought of images as "wrong"). Every time I saw a crucifix I was always more fascinated by how the man was drawn/displyed than actually brought to my knees in repentance or praising God for His sufferings and sacrifice. The crucifix always seemed more focused on how Christ looked than what He my mind. SO it seemed to draw me more away from what the reality of Christ was and more to the man-made side of things. For me that is what it did and still does (maybe because the Christ being portrayed always looks very different from one another? I don't know I was young at the time!) I realize I may stand alone in what each reminds me of, but not sure why. Just know what it makes me think of! :)