Christianity Without the Crucifixion is Not Christianity
Last summer, I walked into a Christian goods store looking for a wedding gift for a friend, of course, in the typical last-minute-guy-gift-shopping fashion. I thought a nice crucifix would be good idea for the newlywed’s apartment. As I glanced around the store, I saw a few crosses, but they weren’t quite what I was looking for.
All of the crosses I saw had cute designs, sequins, and flowers on them and had neat and artistically inscribed words such as “Faith”, “Love”, and “Grace”. Surprisingly, I could not find a cross with the actual corpus of Christ. After a few minutes of perusing the store’s merchandise, I realized they did not have one single crucifix. However, I wanted a crucifix that presented me the body of Jesus and nothing less. Hence, I left the store rather disappointed and continuing my search for the stark symbol of Christianity which, ironically, the Christian goods store could not provide.
The only reason the resurrection of Jesus, the Christ, was possible was the crucifixion. There is no way around it. In order for the Christ to resurrect from the dead, He first needed to die. God certainly could have chosen any time period and any manner of ways to accomplish this. As we hear in the gospels, our God chose to give His life for our salvation by dying a brutal crucifixion in first century Rome.
Early followers of Jesus and certainly the apostles would have had the image and story of Christ’s crucifixion vividly burned into their memories. Remember, many disciples fled and would not have personally experienced the crucifixion. So they would have experienced the horrid scene by word of mouth. Regardless, the followers of Jesus were most likely in a state of complete shock from what had happened that Friday afternoon, that a man they had come to know and love was brutally tortured on a barbaric instrument of Roman - worldly - authority.
Surprisingly, after Christ’s resurrection and ascension, when the early Church - especially the heroic missionary, St. Paul - began to proclaim the gospel, it was the crucifixion that was a crucial detail of Jesus’s story. The kerygma - “Christ Crucified” - was absolutely central Paul’s message. The kerygma does not evade the crucifixion, but starts with it. “CHRIST HAS DIED, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”
The crucifixion was the detail that made early Christian witness so utterly shocking and powerful to the people of the ancient world, a people who knew well the horror of such an event. The witness to the brutality of the crucifixion powerfully shows just to what lengths God went to save His people from their separation from Him.
Christianity, as it exists in modern culture, which is oftentimes airbrushed, filtered, and fabricated, has attempted to take the violence, the blood, the brutality, and the atrocity out of the crucifixion. We live more in a time that could be characterized as “feel-good Christianity”. Generally today, people think their religion shouldn’t make them feel uncomfortable. Their religion should always make them feel good about themselves and their lives.
While living a life of faith should bring a certain amount of existential comfort and security, the Christian message about the salvation of humanity really has nothing to do with feeling comfortable or not. The core of the Christian message is that salvation and eternal happiness come from selfless, sacrificial love - crucifixion. Hence, my disappointment in the occasion of not finding one crucifix in a Christian store that should be proclaiming this message.
Feel-good Christianity focuses on the appealing parts of the Christian story and the good feelings believers receive from worshipping God. In other words, it’s a version of Christianity into which sin, violence, and the crucifixion do not fit too nicely. The crucified Jesus is an image that’s just not appealing to many, religious or otherwise.
Furthermore, the bloody crucifix doesn’t really go along with the cute little bunny our culture has hopping around on Easter morning. Ironically, the Easter bunny has absolutely nothing to do with Christianity or salvation, while the crucifix has everything to do with our salvation.
The enduring reality is: Christianity without the Crucifixion is not truly Christianity. Without crucifixion, resurrection is impossible. Jesus had to go to the cross to make reparation for our sinfulness and, further, it is act in which He freely chose. Removing the crucifixion from the Christian message would have been unthinkable to the apostles and should be just as unthinkable for Christians today.
Today, on this Good Friday, this most humbling day of the liturgical year, we don’t need a Christianity that tells people what they want to hear - a religion of good feelings - but a Christianity that leads them to what they need to hear - the necessity of crucifixion. Besides, a feel-good Christianity will not win in a feel-good culture. The pleasures of the culture will always be more enticing than any fulfillment a feel-good Christianity can provide.
As faithful Christians, we cannot cover up the reality, the atrocity, of the Crucifixion of God. We need to expose and proclaim it so that Christ’s sacrificial witness can truly penetrate and transform the heart of our culture. Anything less will simply be ignored and will not be able to bring the ultimate power of resurrection to people’s lives.
The crucifix will be transformative in a culture that’s bursting with senseless violence, a violence that seems to exists all around us, on our televisions and social media platforms, our newspapers, and in our neighborhoods. It’s ok if the crucifix makes us shudder, because, frankly, there is a shocking amount of senseless violence and other nonsense in our culture today that’s making us shudder already. This worldly violence will only lead us to despair. The violence of the cross will lead us to salvation.
I pray, on this Good Friday, that Christians may carry the crucifixion - the message of a selfless, sacrificial, and, at times, painful witness - not only in their hearts, but literally out into our world. I pray, on this Good Friday, that anyone who comes to the Church may not find an airbrushed, aesthetically pleasing, Christ-less cross that tries to tone down the brutality of the crucifixion, but a Church that proclaims the honest reality of the crucifixion. I pray, on this Good Friday, the world may find a crucified Christianity, which is the only Christianity that will lead to the glory of the Resurrection.