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I have been an ordained Lutheran pastor in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod since 1987. I have also served as a fire chaplain since 2003. In the church-at-large I serve my district as a District Secretary and was previously a Circuit Visitor from 2006-2018 (equivalent to a rural dean). Each summer I teach an online course in homiletics for Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Case for the Crucifix

For those who observe Lent and Good Friday, this season of the Passion of our Lord brings the reality of the cross into full view. We cannot ignore it. All the pain and suffering is right before our eyes. However, as I intimated in a previous post regarding Holy Week, I sense that many Evangelical Christians are uncomfortable with this to the point they actively push it away. They sing of His atoning death, but they do not want any visible reminder of it. Thus, they make much about their preference for the "empty cross" verses the traditional crucifix well known to Roman Catholics and many Lutherans.

One argument is that "Jesus isn't on the cross anymore." True enough. But as one article pointed out in defense of the crucifix, Jesus also isn't in the manger either, yet we continue to put up Nativity scenes each Christmas. So why the singular rejection of the crucifix? Probably in part because it makes us uncomfortable. We cringe at death and suffering. And when we are uncomfortable with something we turn away and ignore it.


Cindy R. said...

The best argument I've heard for a crucifix is that "it is hard to separate law and gospel there," as a friend of mine says. The best designs depict a dead Jesus, evoking "It is finished." Indeed it is.

Donald V. Engebretson said...

Well put. It is hard to appreciate the full weight of the necessity of the cross without the image of his death. I also agree that the image of the dead Jesus truly underscores the finality of his sacrifice. It is finished and the only thing left was for him to commend his spirit to the Father.

Thanks for the insights.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious- as a Missouri Synod Lutheran myself, I appreciate the value and importance of the dieing/dead Jesus on the cross... I also appreciate a baby Jesus in a manger. My church obviously doesn't have the baby in the manger "on display" throughout the year, but now there is much talk about replacing the empty cross that now hangs in the chancel area, with a crucifix. As much as we value the importance of the sacrifice on Good Friday (Jesus is on the cross during processionals, etc. during Holy Week)- are we to forget about grace of Easter through the risen Lord ?

Donald V. Engebretson said...

Dear Anonymous,
You are right that we should not "forget about the grace of Easter through the risen Lord." However, the very fact that we worship on Sunday, the first day of the week, the day of His Resurrection, is one of the most powerful witnesses to the grace of Easter. The living presence of Christ through His proclaimed Word and His blessed Supper where he offers us His very body and blood in tangible form, is again a testimony to the reality of the "grace of Easter." We do not worship a dead Jesus, but a truly living Lord who is among us.

Actually the crucifix witnesses not only to the death of Jesus, but also very powerfully to his suffering on our behalf. The empty cross is still a cross, an instrument of execution, and by being empty does not actually witnesses to his resurrection, but still to his death. The empty tomb is the sign of the resurrection.

Thank you for your comments!