Jesus was betrayed, arrested, falsely accused, tried, scourged, and beaten. Jesus carried his cross, was crucified, and with his words, “It is finished” (Jn 19:30), died. The gift of a crucifix is that it is an icon of the moment of the death of Jesus. Having a crucifix is not a morbid fascination with death, nor a rejection of his resurrection. Nor is the crucifix a magic talisman, but a sacramental, that helps us to remember the reality of what the Son of God, who became one with us in our humanity, did. Jesus embraced humanity all the way even unto his death, giving his life for us that we might have the opportunity to be born again, to be one with him, to be deified, and live with him forever. Without the crucifixion, there would have been no resurrection.
On this Good Friday, let us spend time in venerating Jesus on the Cross, meditating before a crucifix, before this expression of the most intimate act of love ever expressed in human history. This icon expresses the wonderful bestowal of the grace of God upon humanity, in that it reminds us that we have a God who has experienced and understands betrayal, loss, suffering, pain, anguish, and even death. Jesus is relevant because he meets us in the chaos and suffering of our lives.
In making time to be still and looking upon the cross upon which he died, seeing his body slumped and lifeless, we can call to mind the times we have been betrayed, the struggles, trials, pains, sorrows, and losses that we have or are enduring right now. We can also recall those times we have betrayed and hurt others with our actions or inactions, as well as caused pain and suffering. With each conflict or experience of injustice received and perpetrated, we can be comforted in knowing that Jesus understands because he has experienced them all.
Making time to gaze upon the crucifix in times of fear, anxiety, temptation or indecision, and in need of forgiveness, can give us the strength and courage to endure or go through what lies before us. Jesus with his arms outstretched represents for us his eternal welcome, that he loves us more than we can ever mess up, that he does not define us by our sin or worst mistakes, and that he loves us more than we can ever imagine.
When we resist running from our trials, our suffering, and our pain, and instead face them, we will find that Jesus is waiting for us with his arms outstretched and wide open, just as he did on the Cross. Jesus meets us in the depths of the whirlwind of our deepest hurts, struggles, and confusion, as well as when and where we need him most.
JoAnn’s final month was like watching a crucifixion. Yet, even though she continued to lose weight and became all but skin and bones near the end, she never lost her beauty or her grace. JoAnn radiated love for me, our children, and any of those who helped to care for her. Her love, my willingness to be there for her instead of focus on myself, and Jesus holding each of us up and drawing us closer together, and so many people praying for us, is what sustained me. Two and a half years later, I still experience the pain of loss, but the love of Jesus and JoAnn continue to sustain me.
This is why we venerate Jesus on the cross today, this is why today is Good Friday, so we remember that death does not have the final word, for Jesus conquered death. This is why we can say with St. Paul, “Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting” (1 Cor 15:55). Jesus did not leave us as orphans when he died on the Cross and we are not alone because as St Irenaeus wrote, “Jesus opened up heaven for us in the humanity he assumed.” Jesus conquered death for us and became the firstborn of the new creation. Jesus is still present with us in whatever we may be dealing with, now, always, and forever.
Photo: JoAnn and me in Los Angeles outside the USC Keck Cancer center taking another step on our way of the cross.