Does a Crucifix Belong in a Child’s Room?
Rev. Kurt Lantz Proper 20 B Mark 9:30-37
September 19, 2021 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON
Dear disciples of Jesus,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The crucifix that occupies such a prominent place in this chapel captures our gaze because, although it is beautifully carved, it is a harsh depiction of violence in a place where just about everything else exudes peace and tranquility, from the subdued lighting to the natural tones of the wood and the off white colour of the walls. The crucifix (the cross with the dead body of Jesus) is a frequent subject for artists in all kinds of media because it is always striking even though it is not a pleasant sight.
We are drawn to it with feelings of peace even though we know it is an image of cruelty, and so it always seems a little out of place whether in a family living room, a hospital room, on the top of a mountain overlooking a town, and even here in a chapel. These are indeed fitting places for a crucifix, but a crucified body on display is always somewhat contrary to our sensibilities. It is after all, a dead body nailed to a wooden beam.
It goes against our sensibilities as did Jesus’ teaching to His disciples when He told them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And when He is killed, after three days He will rise” (Mark 9:31). I have tried to use the line sparingly, but once again it strikes me that there are several Resurrection Lutheran churches, but I have not yet seen a Crucifixion Lutheran Church, unless we want to count those called Holy Cross, which perhaps is a euphemism comparable to a cross displayed without the body of Jesus, which seems to be far more palatable to our tastes.
That the Son of Man, sent from the heavenly Father into the world, should be killed and in such a horrible manner, goes against not only our sensibilities but our very manner of thinking. And so the disciples did not dare even to ask Jesus about it. Instead they did what fallen human nature does and “argued with one another about who was the greatest” (Mark 9:34). That is an 180 degree about face from the crucifix, isn’t it? And it is not only a problem with these twelve disciples.
In his epistle to the entire Christian Church, James notes the same thing about our fallen sinful nature. “If you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts [worried about who is the greatest], do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice” (James 3:14-16). When we look at the crucifix we think that we are looking at something vile. James tells us that what is really vile is not the humiliation of crucifixion, but what we do fueled by demonic ambition to be the greatest.
The Son of Man was delivered into the hands of men and they killed Him. It is right there on display before our eyes, in a place where we want to become known as the greatest for: having the most children in church; the best church music; the best balance of COVID-19 precaution and religious expression. These are the source of a great many quarrels in churches as everyone seeks to be the greatest at something or everything. There are similar things that cause arguments and conflict where you work and in your own home.
Demonic selfish ambition poisons it all as we seek to put our family, our church, ourselves in top spot. And as we do all of this, there stands the crucifix before us proclaiming Jesus’ words about the Son of Man being delivered into the hands of men, and men killing him; men like us who out of selfish ambition and jealousy strive to take first place.
Jesus sat down and called the disciples to gather around. “And He said to them, ‘If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.’” (Mark 9:35). Top spot goes to that One there depicted on the crucifix. He came not to be served as the greatest but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. He came not to take first place but to take that place there on the cross, your place under the penalty for your sins of jealousy and selfish ambition.
This is why the crucifix always seems out of place. It has no place in our heart along with jealousy and selfish ambition. And so it is always fitting for a crucifix to be before our eyes, for not only does it proclaim that our fallen sinful nature is turned 180 degrees about face, it also draws us to see the greatest act of love and salvation, in Jesus handed over to the hands of men and killed for you and for me. He did this for us and it is horrible and beautiful. It is violent yet full of peace. It proclaims the full sternness of God’s wrath against our sins, and shows His unfathomable love in paying the full ransom to have us as His own.
That is the Gospel that proclaims that our selfish ambition and jealousy is forgiven through His crucifixion and resurrection. It is the Gospel that allows us to see that the greatest in the kingdom of God are those who see Jesus on the cross, crucified for their own sins. They see that selfish ambition and jealousy get them nowhere, nowhere good; but the crucified Saviour gets them to God. If we could set selfish ambition and jealousy aside we would be willing to be last of all and servant of all, content to be little children without any selfish ambition to be the greatest, rather fully aware of our need for someone to care for us, feed us, protect us, love us, save us.
Jesus, the holy divine Son of God, came into our world as a little child. He grew to be the servant of all and He died upon the cross at the hands of sinful men. We have a few children in our midst. There would be little that they could do if we intended them harm. In fact, because they are vulnerable we take steps to protect them and keep them safe. Just like Jesus set a child into the midst of the grown up disciples, so God set Jesus into the midst of this world of sinful men. And as vulnerable as a child, Jesus was abused and tortured and humiliated and killed, even though He could have mightily prevented it. And there is the picture of it all right up front.
There is a mystery to Jesus’ words that perhaps we don’t fully understand. It is like that with most of Jesus’ words. He said, “Whoever receives one such a child in My name receives Me, and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me” (Mark 9:37). When we receive the little children, we receive Jesus who came as a child. When we protect, nurture, and love the children because we know that they are vulnerable to harm, then we receive Jesus who came not to be the biggest and the strongest and greatest, but who came vulnerable such that He was handed over into the hands of sinful men and killed. And He did that for us. And that is why our heavenly Father set Him into the midst of us.
It is good to have children in the midst of us and it is good to have the crucifix before our eyes, for these two things which seem like they shouldn’t be together in the same room, are the two things that Jesus pointed to in order to teach His disciples that He came to give His life for the sins of the world, for their sins and for ours.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.