Anything But Empty

"Let your words be anything but empty."

Crosses and Cake

I was 14 the first time I set foot in a cathedral on a mission trip.

I do not recall the name or the exact location, just the feeling of dim, quiet reverence, and the sight of ornate stained glass windows and intricately designed architecture that, having been exposed to predominantly southern, Baptist churches, I was not accustomed to.

For me, it was a whole other world; distant, foreign, different.

Then my eyes fell on the cross, and, this I remember clearly, I felt a sinking feeling. This was not the first time I had seen a cross at a church. I had listened to many a sermon with the outline of the cross behind the pastor as he preached, draped in that vivid purple cloth at Easter service. I had even nailed index cards with my sins scrawled across them to a wooden cross at church camp.

But this was my first time seeing a cross with Jesus on it.

My first time seeing long arms stretched out and a face twisted in pain, mouth open in silent cries to heaven.
I shook my head.

“Silly Catholics,” I thought, in the self-righteous tone of a 14-year-old that has it all figured out. “Don’t they know that Jesus rose?”

I silently, inwardly, turned my nose up as people ritualistically touched and kissed the bleeding feet of Jesus.

“I don’t need any idols,” I thought piously. “I serve a living and risen Savior.”

It never crossed my mind, the oddity of it all. I looked at the Cross, depicting Christ and Him crucified, and cried “Idol!” But, somehow the cleaned up, gold plated cross around my neck was just fine.

I looked at it again, at the eyes wide and rolled back, there was something discomforting about that.
It was Easter Sunday, years later, safe in the comfort of familiar services and décor. We had adjourned in the lobby for fellowship and food.

“What piece do you want,” asked the person behind the table with food and cups of cool-aid. They are cutting into a piece of cake.

The cake is the shape of a cross, with “He is Risen” written in cursive letters across the middle.

“We’re…we’re going to eat that,” I wondered inwardly, the inner-voice noticeably less sure when compared with the voice of that 14-year-old in the cathedral all those years ago.

I looked at it again, the sweet, thick layer of yellow icing on top, there was something discomforting about that.

This past weekend, I went into a Catholic church. Not for service, or for anything specific. I was simply driving home after a long day of car issues and studying. I was burnt out and I knew if I went back home, I would just study more, feeling guilty for doing anything else.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on the traditions, the customs, the rituals, whatever they may be. But all I wanted to do was sit for a little. It was not a cathedral, it did not have the same ornate decorative style as my first experience was a Catholic church, but there, at the front of the room, was a small Crucifix, the Cross and Jesus crucified.

And I don’t know what has changed, if it’s something specific in my heart, in the life stage I am in, or what I needed in that moment, but there was something oddly comforting about that depiction of Jesus.

There is something unsettling about seeing that picture of Jesus. For many, that Jesus is reserved for Good Fridays, when pastors may be prone to detailed and gory descriptions of historical crucifixions.

But, as a whole, it’s not a sight that many of certain faith traditions are comfortable with.

It represents one of the biggest tensions of our faith; the God who bleeds, sweats, cries, and dies.

Yet, so often it seems like we are all too eager to strip away the messiness, the sweat, tears, blood and death, and to put it on a silver chain, or on the back of our cars.

But maybe we’ve missed something in our eagerness to clean the Cross, scrub away the blood stains, and sand down the splinters before we prop it up for people to see.

Please, don’t hear this and think that I believe the suffering and death of Jesus is the most important aspect of faith. I know the flip-side of this as well, it can turn into a fetishization and obsession with the suffering of Jesus, and we begin to believe the suffering is redemptive in and of itself. As Dr. Kreider, one of my favorite DTS professors said:

“It was not the suffering that was redemptive, it was his death. If it were the amount of suffering that was redemptive, Jesus would still be suffering.”

Rather, I think that maybe there is more room for the suffering, crucified Jesus then we’ve allowed; the Jesus who became flesh, blood, and bone.

Maybe there is room to linger on that suffering and death, without the all too often dismissive statement of, “But Sunday is coming.”

Yes it is coming. Yes it is beautiful. Yes if Christ did not rise, our faith is for naught (1 Corinthians 15:17). In the sense of salvation, Sunday is here. The tomb is empty, and Jesus has conquered death and the grave.
But, for many, Sunday isn’t here. And for those who are in the Friday, where death, and darkness, and loneliness and pain surround, where broken bodies and broken souls abound, sometimes, maybe, there is comfort to be found in the Jesus who is crucified.

What if Good Friday, at least for a moment, didn’t always look toward Sunday, and we sat in the pain and uncertainty, because, for whatever reason, we feel as the disciples felt…as if resurrection would never come.
At Praxis 2014, author and blogger Sarah Bessey, shared her heart and pain having just experienced another miscarriage. She states that:

“I felt that I didn’t belong in church because I was lamenting and questioning and doubting…In a tradition rooted in victory, I felt that there was no room for my mourning.”

I’m not saying that all churches need to go out and buy a Crucifix for their pulpit, or that the empty cross is sinful, or that cross-jewelry is idolatry, or that delighting in the hope and light of resurrection is wrong. I am only trying to say that there are times when the victorious, empty cross may not speak to us as loudly as our crucified Savior.

There may be times when our souls are bleeding, and in those times we may find less comfort in a sparkling cross that speaks to victory, and more comfort in the blood-splattered cross holding our blood-splattered Lord.

Maybe, there is more room for the mourning, the mourning without the certainty or assurance. Suffering is hard to look upon, so we all too often and eagerly resort to assurances that “Sunday is coming”, especially in an attempt to comfort those who mourn. And yes there will be time for that, there is a place for that assurance, for the reminder that we do not hope in vain, but not every moment is that moment.

Because, yes, Sunday is coming
But for some people, Sunday is not here.


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