Monday, April 9, 2018

Easter's empty tomb is not incongruent with a Crucifix that has a corpus.

Easter celebrates an empty tomb.  It is God’s ultimate vindication of a life that is lived out with the greatest of fidelity and love, and one that had gone through the toughest of struggles in life, having borne the heaviness of the world’s sins.  It really is the greatest reward given for the greatest of sacrifices.

That we can have heaven to look forward to when our own lives end is a goal that we all share as the baptized and adopted children of God.  It has everything to do with responding to and co-operating with the grace of God.  But the empty tomb of Jesus does not mean that our own lives of struggles are therefore over.  Each day still requires of us to do battle with sin and evil, to strive to do good, to make that choice for integrity, honesty, fidelity, and to, like Jesus, sweat blood in the Garden of Gethsemane.  It is not without meaning that the Church Militant is a name given to the Church that exists in this life - the life that you and I are living.

Many have noticed and remarked how different the crosses are in Protestant and Catholic Churches.  Those in Protestant churches are always plain crosses, sometimes with a cloth draped around its bare crossbeam.  Those in Catholic Churches are distinctly different because they almost always have a corpus or body of Christ hanging on it.  Protestant theology tends to explain it this way – that because Christ rose from the dead, he should therefore no longer be seen to be nailed and hanging on the Cross anymore.  The victory of Christ should be symbolically represented by the fact that the Cross stands empty.  The battle over sin and death is won.  Game over.

By that token then, would it mean then that Catholic Churches do not believe in the Resurrection?  Certainly not.  In fact, all Churches - both Catholic and Protestant, share the same belief in the resurrection of Christ as the ultimate victory of God over sin, evil and death.  In both Churches, the game is indeed over for sin, evil and death.

But our victories – yours and mine, has a dimension that still features a personal and ongoing struggle that requires a daily fight.  Objectively, the battle is won for us by Christ’s death and resurrection.  Our individual battles are still subjectively ongoing.  Our human tendency to not want to fight, to give up easily and to not sweat any blood in our own Gethsamanes is a constant reality.  These experiences of ours will always require some added boost to our faith, giving us a stronger resolve to want to live and love as close to the way that Jesus lived and loved as possible. 

The danger of having a bare Cross as our symbol of Christ’s victory is that it can leave us clinically distanced from what has made God go to the Cross – our sins.  It can turn us into complacent Christians who give nary a thought about the depth of God’s love for us which caused not just a man, but a just man, to be so brutalized to such a heinous extent. 

Just as our spiritual progress is always a ‘two-step-forward, one-step-back’ process, the joy and strength of Easter is never going to be a distinctly straight road to glory.  Our lives will always feature some form of the Cross for us as we do our battle with sin.  The forms of the glory of the empty tomb is, for most of us, going to be fleeting glimpses in between the struggles that we face.  I can understand why the Prosperity Gospel message is so appealing to many – its message is essentially one of Easter all the way.  The truth is that Easter’s triumph gives us all the more reason to carry our Crosses with greater elan, and we will do this well by constantly casting an eye on an image of Jesus dying to show us his undying love.

1 comment:

  1. “The truth is that Easter’s triumph gives us all the more reason to carry our Crosses …………… well by constantly casting an eye on an image of Jesus dying to show us his undying love.”

    The empty tomb is Easter’s triumph. I remember how happily I used to encourage the little children in my Catechism classes to colour the tomb in their Workbook, in a bright array of colours, reflecting the joy of the Risen Lord.. On the other hand, the crucifix appeared only in silhouette against the gray sky - for death, even in its most serene ,casts a pall, and what more - the appalling image of the suffering Christ nailed to the cross! Surely these two scenarios cannot be congruent - or so I would have felt at that time.

    Down the years, with more comprehensive reading and a deeper understanding of the faith, I’ve come to realize and appreciate the line you have stated above. While the idea of the empty tomb still gladdens the heart, the cross depicting Jesus on it -is a constant reminder of the exorbitant cost of our salvation, ……….the love that He literally poured out for us and what’s more, the loving obedience to do the Will of the Father.

    Thus, the crucifix is a sacramental for us Catholics to help us focus on the endearing and enduring love of God…….to learn to appreciate the meaning of Christ’s - “Thy will be done,” - as perfect obedience and commitment to His Father………... and hopefully as disciples of His, to learn to follow and walk in His way.

    I feel that the bare cross without the body of Christ on it will lack a certain richness of meaning for the cross derives meaning from Christ’s dying on it for the redemption of the world.

    So , like you have said, it can be seen then that both the empty tomb and the crucifix go in tandem towards Easter Triumph.

    Thank you Fr for your commitment to write weekly to edify. God bless you.