Here’s a story that doubtless several Christian bloggers will have been reporting: Church removes ‘scary crucifix’. I have found my thoughts scattering on both sides of the debate.
At first I was saddened to read the church had had to take down this crucifix with its clear depiction of Christ’s pain. In an age when the Cross is little more than pretty jewellery to some people, a crucifix that artistically makes it clear what a cruel form of torture and death it is surely part of Christian communication.
On the other hand, I thought, wait a minute, I’m one of those who prefers an empty cross to a crucifix. That’s not because I want to avoid contemplating the agonies of Christ on the cross, it’e because I want to affirm that he is risen from the dead, too. Moltmann talked about holding together ‘the resurrection of the crucified one’ and ‘the cross of the risen one’.
And furthermore, the main motivation for removing the crucifix seems to be concern about distress from children. Isn’t that a sensitive thing to do? However, crosses were common around the countryside of first century Palestine and today’s children can often cope easily with gory material.
So my gut feeling is that there are arguments to be had on both sides from Christian perspectives. What do you think?
This is a fascinating post! What a controversy! Well, I have to say that I agree with you about both sides. It is important to know how much pain Jesus went through. However, I also agree with the empty cross. Christ isn’t there anymore, so why does it matter?
In the end, I say remove it, and I say that because it is better to be sensitive. As a child, it is good to think of Jesus as the sensitive shepherd (in my opinion). When we grow up, and can stomach the sacrifice he made (though never really understand it), then maybe it’s time to watch something like the Passion of the Christ or something to wake us up.
This is just my opinion, and I’m an American, so I might not have it down right according to custom.
Yes, it’s a very delicate one, isn’t it? I think you’ve struck the right pitch with your comment, and I don’t think your being an American makes any difference here. I’m sure equally there are some Christians here who might accuse this parish of betraying the Gospel and not realising that this is a difficult one to call.
The question of what it is about Jesus that relates to children is an important one. Some time I might write about the way Rebekah, our five-year-old, frequently wants me to read the story of the Cross from her children’s Bible. She sees the story as terribly unfair, yet finds it magnetic.
This incident, however, is complicated by its public nature. Passers-by would have had no option but to engage. Whether that is right or wrong is itself a big question.
Agreed, it’s not a straightforward one to call. But on balance I’m more uncomfortable about the sculpture’s removal than about the risk of distress.
Your Moltmann reference is certainly germane; but perhaps also we’ve become too swift to sidestep Bonhoeffer’s dictum: When Christ calls someone, he bids them come and die.
You see, the Babel-reversal of Pentecost notwithstanding, I find that the contemporary emphasis on “making the Gospel relevant” finds only limited support in the New Testament. We’re not called to demonstrate that Christian faith is non-threatening and socially acceptable. Rather, what we’re called to preach is foolishness and a stumbling-block (1 Cor 1.23), the outrageous scandal of a crucified Saviour – and his assurance that those who would follow him should anticipate trials.
Yes, Resurrection has the final word – but I suspect that too often the symbol of an empty cross is used more as an ‘instead’ than as an ‘after’.
Yes, this is the other side of the dilemma, isn’t it? The Gospel both makes points of contact and points of conflict with the world. Some of this will be about the motives of the church in Horsham for taking down the cross. If they are about remaining socially acceptable in the community, then this is an anti-Gospel move. On the other hand, if they appreciate how difficult it is with children in today’s society, that might be a different call.
I must say, I appreciate your final point in particular, about empty crosses sometimes being an ‘instead’ rather than an ‘after’. I naturally take the latter option, because that’s how I’ve been theologically educated, but you made me remember the story of the woman who went to a jeweller’s and asked for a cross, only to complain that the one she was offered ‘had a man on it’. So thank you, you’ve prompted me to see a new side to that question.
I’ve seen a few crucifixes which have been very brutal – some of which have actually been more brutal than the fact in the way the body has been portrayed. I’m not sure how much that gains, if it causes offence to those outside the church. Yes, the cross was a skandalon to both Jew and Greek, but that was for more profound reasons than the aesthetic. I’m not personally convinced that we gain anything by being deliberately offensive. I’d go for an empty cross, personally.
Incidentally, it is often said that the empty cross proclaims the resurrection. It doesn’t. All three crosses would have eventually been empty, but only one crucified one was raised. It is the empty tomb that proclaims the resurrection. But that’s not such a recognisable symbol.
Thanks, Tony, you too have made me think again. As you say, an empty tomb is not such a recognisable symbol. Can’t say I’ve ever seen that as a church symbol, let alone a piece of jewellery.
One other thought I’ve had (I’m posting this as a separate comment, because it’s not a response to any of the commenters): I find it interesting that the destination of the crucifix has been a museum. Is there not a history of Christians finding certain art, especially of a more modern variety, upsetting? Is that why the crucifix of all things has ended up in a sanctuary for art? Any thoughts, anyone?
I wonder if sometimes this is more a cultural than a theological issue? I have a very hazy memory of a discussion in Paul Theroux’s ‘Old Patagonian Express’ where a visitor complained about the gruesomeness of the crucifixes in a Latin American country (I forget which, I told you it was hazy!). The reply was something to the effect that local people lived lives of gruelling hardship and wanted to worship a Christ who understood their sufferings.
Not sure how that applies in Horsham, though…
Thank you and welcome here as on Subway! Your comment about Theroux leads me to one vague near-parallel. During a summer placement while training for the ministry, I worked with a minister who was also a part-time hospital chaplain. Furthermore, although by then a Methodist minister, his spiritual heritage was Roman Catholic. One day, he took me into the hospital chapel. He pointed out that they had a crucifix but no cross. He explained that it was important in the hospital environment for people to have an image of Christ who suffered (with? like?) them.