Addressing the subject of the crucifixion can be difficult for a pastor. It is such a gory ordeal that speakers either just gloss over it so as not to offend or delve into each of the gruesome, ghastly details to tear at the emotions. Even those who do not attend church are familiar with the whole horrible process through movies such as The Passion of the Christ.
In March, 1998, I had the opportunity to spend a couple of weeks in Israel on a study tour. I recall one place we visited had a facsimile of the cross of Christ between two other crosses as described in the gospel accounts. What surprised (and confused) me was their height, or lack of it. The crosses were relatively short. Someone nailed to one of them would only be a few inches off the ground, not the 10-12 feet pictured in my children’s Bible.
As I thought about it, it dawned on me that just as someone can drown in an inch of water, so they can die crucified an inch off the ground. But the thought that really captured my attention was that I would be almost face-to-face with someone nailed to a cross at that height. I suddenly had a different understanding of Mark 15:27-30,
“And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!’”
They could have been inches away from his nose when they yelled at him.
Protestants are uncomfortable using any kind of an image when they pray. But by the same token they are thinking something when they pray. It may not be in their hand or on the wall, but it is certainly in their mind.
In his Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, C. S. Lewis touches on the notion of using images when one prays. He did not find them helpful. But there was one picture he thought that could deepen one’s prayer life. He writes,
“There is indeed one mental image which does not lure me away into trivial elaborations. I mean the Crucifixion itself; not seen in terms of all the pictures and crucifixes, but as we must suppose it to have been in its raw, historical reality. But even this is of less spiritual value than one might expect. Compunction, compassion, gratitude — all the fruitful emotions — are strangled. Sheer physical horror leaves no room for them. Nightmare. Even so, the image ought to be periodically faced. But no one could live with it. It did not become a frequent motive of Christian art until the generations which had seen real crucifixions were all dead.”1
I don’t know the actual height of Christ’s cross, but the thought of it being little more than my height is unnerving. But far more troubling is why it happened.
“He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. – 1 Peter 2:22-24.
- C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2012), 85.