Thursday, February 28, 2013


This is, of course, the key image of Christianity.  Without the Crucifixion what profit would the Resurrection have been, indeed how would Christ have died?  Once He became Incarnate it was inevitable that Christ in confronting the evil one and sin would also confront suffering and death.  That does not mean that the individuals who subsequently were involved, who chose to unjustly try, convict and condemn the Lord and who caused His suffering and death had no choice in the matter.  They remained free to choose to do good or evil.  

In this icon the Lord is crucified between the two thieves.  Around Him the angels, overawed at His Divine Humility and Obedience  in His free embracing of suffering and death draw back, covering their faces.  Even their angelic intellects cannot grasp the Divine Goodness, Humility and Love.   The two thieves are crucified in two different ways not only so as to give greater emphasis to the particular suffering of Christ, nor only to show that the Romans (and by extension all evil institutions) distort imagination in the service of cruelty but to emphasise especially the particular and providential mode of His suffering and death. At this moment their legs are being broken to hasten their deaths.   Christ's arms are open to embrace all mankind so as to unite them to His Father.  He has become powerless, totally deprived of freedom, wealth, dignity, honour and instead has become immersed in pain and distress.   The mystics tell us that His greatest suffering was that this Love would be rejected by even one soul, that souls would choose not to enter into communion with the Father through the Sacrifice of the Son.

What is revealed here upon the Cross?  Here the Son completes His mission.  Here upon the Cross He shows us how utterly worthy of love, obedience and adoration is the Father.  Here God the Word,  the Image and Perfect Likeness of the Father empties Himself so completely that He freely embraces even death, the public death of a criminal and sinner.  He does so gladly, joyfully for it is the very 'essence' of the Son to make the Father known for He is the Self-Revelation of the Father.

On the left the women gather with the Mother of God who stands with Her Son is His final agony.  On the right the men gather with St. John and the Centurion who confessed the Lord at His death.  Legend has it he was healed of a disease at that moment.  On The left of the Cross a soldier holds the spear that has pierced the side of the Lord, a wound from which flowed out blood and water, symbols of the Sacraments that unite Christians to Christ in His Body the Church.  Through the wound in His side we gain entry to the very Heart of God made man, indeed, we enter into communion with the Triune God.

Beneath the Cross Christ's garments are being divided up while on either side the dead rise from their tombs.  According to one tradition Christ died over the very site where our first parents were laid and so there is always a cave depicted with the bones of mankind's first parents within.  We are doomed to death but not to darkness.  We cannot hold on to this world but that does not mean we have to forfeit the next.  His death has opened wide the gates of heaven and He holds them open with His outstretched  arms.  Christ appeals to the Father for mercy for us.  It is the voice of the Son that He hears and it is the self-emptying love of the Son that is offered to the Father on our behalf.  This is what makes the Cross salvific.  Human blood is shed but it is God who sheds it.  God sheds His own blood but with Love and Obedience.  His self-emptying on the Cross offers to the Father an infinitely valuable apology for the disobedience, ingratitude and selfishness of the human race.  On the Cross Christ re-establishes our walk with God that was interrupted in the Garden of Eden by our first parents' sin.  More than this He makes it possible, He provides both the will and the action, for us to enter into the very Heart of the Trinity and sit upon the Throne of God with Him.  The Cross is not the end His enemies intended but the beginning of something totally and wonderfully new.

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