The smell of cinnamon mixed with candlewax and faded incense greeted me as I stepped into the large sanctuary of St Matthew’s Church. Poinsettias and the warm glow of the tabernacle made the modern interior look more homey. Several volunteers shuffled about, removing them. Alas, the Christmas season has ended and yields to ordinary time. We once adored the babe in the manger and now we walk alongside him as a grown man. Still filled with that sense of adoration, I quietly say morning-prayer. Then, I excused myself from the Divine Presence and went into the smaller chapel for morning Mass.
I take my seat next to an old lady near the front and gazing up at the altar, I am filled with joy. Behind that altar used to be a garish, painted crucifix with Jesus all out of proportion with a funny-shaped head. In its place hung a beautiful carved crucifix, the dark wood of the cross standing against Christ’s fair, twisted body. The frame of his body hung as if bearing actual weight and even more striking were the realistic bruises and scars traced along his skin. I slowly fall in love with each red wound, the curls of blood-matted hair, the pierced hands, the open side. Throughout the entire Mass, I addressed my prayers to Christ crucified.
What a wonderful and beautiful gift is a well-made crucifix! The more realistic, the more it becomes an open window through time, peering back to that one sacrifice. The crucifix shows us a God who truly became man. In the contours of that broken body, I see the shape of a broken humanity. In that body is more than just the appearance of a body, it is a true, human body experiencing every prick of pain and sadness. O blessed and fragile humanity of Christ! O sweet humanity, all giving, all loving, all bearing, all enduring.
Seeing the crucifix, I see love. In that image of death, I see the path of life. Opponents of such a gruesome representation always say: “But Christ is risen,” to which I answer: “And without the glorious cross, there would be no glorious resurrection.” To find our wounded Savior hanging from the cross center place may be unique to Catholic Churches. We are a people in love with Christ’s humanity- even when ugly and unrecognizable. His woundedness is a reflection of our selves. The crucifix declares: there are broken, wounded people here.
And moreso, the Redeemer and Lord deigned to make himself just like them. Such is the marvelous God we worship! A God reigning in weakness, a condescending God, a humble God, a Shepherd laying down his life for the sheep. Anything else would not be worthy of our adoration. No one remembers the idols, the pantheons, the blood-stained altars of old. Everything they once spoke of has been surpassed. Those faded, shadowy gods remain encased in stone, gold and wood while our Christ lives in the flesh. We know he lived because he died. In the echoes of time, only the gruesome and marvelous outline of the cross stands.