Arms Outstretched

destinypp028The last magic lantern picture of Monday night at Relizane still abides in blessing.  It was a picture of the Lord on the Cross. . .  In the dim light the Cross was obliterated and only the two arms outstretched could be seen.  Is it not thus that our ministry should be. . .  nothing visible of the Cross – only the love and the welcome?”    Diary

Dave returned home from work one evening with a tiny gift box.  “This has an interesting story.”  He goes on to explain that he had been given this gift from someone with whom he had spent considerable time, encouraging him in his walk of faith.  Dave explained that his friend told him,  “I wanted to thank you by giving you something to give Miriam.  I thought that would make you happy as well.”  Knowing that his friend was a jeweler I eagerly lifted the lid from the box – more than happy to make Dave happy by making me happy (!) – and lifted the layer of cotton batten. Dave watched me as I lifted up the delicate gold chain and viewed the exquisite filigree pendant resting in my upturned hand.  It was a crucifix:  a figure of Jesus nailed to the Cross.

We caught eyes and I knew that we were both thinking the same thing.  Protestant theology has, from its origin, placed the emphasis on the empty Cross – emblem of the risen Christ – ascribing the crucifix to the Roman Catholic tradition. Moreover, we have focused on His spiritual suffering – separation from God as He bore the weight of the sin of humanity – as distinct from the real but secondary physical suffering He experienced on the Cross.

I studied the twisted body of Christ recreated in gold, weighed down in anguish and suffering.  I asked myself, “But have we, in the process, distanced ourselves from the suffering Christ – stripped and vulnerable, arms outstretched, body broken – His spiritual and physical sacrifice on the way to victory over sin and death?

All this was going through my mind as I considered this gift of love to my husband and his correct assumption that “it would make Dave happy to make me happy.” Moreover, it was a symbol signifying our friend’s renewed faith.  What could be more appropriate than the gift of the Cross – with or without the body of Christ?

The cross has become the symbol of the Christian faith.  It comes in many shapes, sizes and styles.  Years ago, a popular rock star noted for a sensual mindset, initiated a line of Byzantine jewelry and artifacts which, among other items, featured lavish ornate jewel- encrusted crosses.  One of my favorite “religious catalogues” currently has no less than two dozen types of crosses – Celtic, St. Teresa, Ichthus, Lenten, budded, La Primavera, remembrance, Latin, Irish clover – to name a few.

But what does it mean?  Years ago, when in youth ministry, my husband made a point of asking the young cross-wearers:  “Why do you wear that cross?”  You can imagine the range of answers.

What is the significance of the Cross?  Empty or laden with the crucified body of Christ.  Adorned or plain.  Large or small.  The Cross has become, over time, the distinct symbol of the Christian faith.  Oswald Chambers wrote:  “The Cross is the central event in time and eternity, and the answer to all the problems of both.”  (April 16)  At the same time, it is for many a stumbling block, Christ’s death and resurrection scoffed by critics or trivialized by the complacent.

Lilias observed a unique phenomenon while showing a “magic lantern picture” of Christ on the Cross:  “In the dim light the Cross was obliterated and only the two arms outstretched could be seen.  Is it not thus that our ministry should be. . . nothing visible of the Cross – only the love and the welcome?”  Just as Christ laid down His life on the Cross, we are asked to pick up the cross and follow Him:  to willingly die to anything and everything that would stand in the way of living lives fully committed to His unfolding purposes or that would stand in the way of hearing His voice.  At the end of the day, the gore of the Cross is trumped by its glory:  the atoning work of Jesus. The outstretched arms of Christ.

What did I do with my crucifix?  I received it into my heart as intended:  a gift of love from a heart of faith. Each year, during the Lenten Season, I take out my crucifix – a lovely and loving reminder of the Way of the Cross that led to the victory of the Resurrection.

When I survey the wondrous cross

On which the Prince of glory died,

My richest gain I count but loss,

And pour contempt on all my pride.

Were the whole realm of nature mine

That were a present far too small:

Love so amazing, so divine,

Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Isaac Watts

Painting:  Pocket Sketchbook, 1888

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