“Both/And” instead of “Either/Or”

Some time ago someone asked me why I wear a crucifix around my neck instead of an empty cross. “After all ,”she said “Jesus is risen”– as if to imply that somehow my wearing a crucifix was sign that I thought Jesus was still on the cross and a denial of His resurrection. Before I go any further let me say I know this woman’s heart and I don’t think she meant the statement to come across as it did. Her question didn’t surprise me (she was raised in a different faith tradition that doesn’t use the image of the crucifix as part of their worship and church environment). However, it did make me stop and think about a few things. Mostly it made me think about Jesus.

The first crucifix necklace I owned I bought with my big sister in the early 80’s (the era of big hair, big shoulder pads and big jewelery). I wasn’t Catholic then. I was just a girl who loved Jesus and wanted to wear a cool silver crucifix as a sign of my faith. I didn’t know the crucifix was seen by many (not all) as a “catholic” image. I’m not sure that it would have made a difference to me had I known. I wore that crucifix for a number of years but lost track of it during my college years.  Fast forward to 2002. My parents gave me my second crucifix when I became Catholic. These days I’m not really into wearing much jewelery. In fact, I wear very little at all. But I do like to wear my crucifix; not because I’m trying to make a statement about where I worship but because of what the image of Jesus on the cross speaks to my heart.

I have come to love kneeling before the crucifix at church. I find that it’s nearly impossible to spend anytime at all on your knees before a life-sized image of Jesus on the cross and not be humbled. Think about it… It’s hard to really contemplate the image of Christ on the cross and hold unforgiveness or anger in your heart. After all, it was my sin that put Jesus on the cross. In light of this truth, what right do I have to hold an offense against my brother or sister? I also find it difficult to kneel before the crucifix and entertain judgmental thoughts against others. And, I can’t possibly look at an image of Jesus on the cross, the wounds on his feet and hands and his side, and complain about my circumstances. My suffering (if you can call it that) is nothing in comparison to what Jesus went through for me. I most certainly haven’t suffered to the point of shedding blood. The crucifix reminds me that He surrendered all of his rights so that I could be forgiven and reconciled to my Father in heaven. So, how can I cling to my rights as if God or anyone else owes my anything.  As I behold the image of Jesus on the cross I see a true example of what it means to “die to self” and quite frankly I need to be reminded of this daily. 

Obviously I can’t spend all day kneeling at the foot of the crosss (who would do the dishes at home?). So, I wear a crucifix.  When I wear my crucifix and I see its reflection in the mirror, touch it with my hand or when my three year-old looks at it and says “hey mom, there’s Jesus,” I am reminded of all the things mentioned above. I am reminded of the one who humbly suffered and died because He loved me and it compells me to live by grace  so that I may love others like Jesus loves me.

I don’t recall everything I said to my friend who asked me about my crucifix. I know I didn’t say everything I just put in writing. But I do think I said something about how “the resurrection of Jesus is meaningless without the crucifixion and vice versa. Had he not suffered and died there would be no resurrection to celebrate.”  But even that statement is incomplete. The crucifixion and resurrection are not an “either/or” kind of thing like my friend’s question suggested. Christ’s suffering and death are an example of how we are to live: picking up our cross and humbly dying to self (to our flesh). But we cannot follow this example without the resurrected life of Christ within us which He’s given in the gift of the Holy Spirit. We must be mindful of what He’s given us through both His death and His resurrection. It’s a “both/and” kind of thing. And there’s definitely a balance to be had.

I’ve met Christians who focus only on the hope we have because of the resurrection. It seems these brothers and sisters want to deny their suffering, trials, God’s discipline or the need to die to their flesh. They’re convinced that the power of the resurrection is their guarantee to avoid suffering or inconvenience here on earth. Then again, I’ve met Christians who focus so much on their suffering for Jesus and carrying their cross here on earth that they’ve lost the joy of their salvation and they fail to live by and reflect the hope and promise of the resurrection. The Bible tells us the Christian life involves both. In Philippians 3:10-11 St. Paul puts it this way: “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in his death, and so somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” I love this passage of Scripture. It demonstrates a paradox of our faith; “the power” and “the sufferings.” It reflects the “both/and.”

I’m glad my friend asked me about my crucifix. Little did she know where her question would lead me in my thought process. It’s definitely made me more conscious of the crucifix I wear and everything it represents. Which makes me think more about my Jesus. And the more I think about my Jesus, the more “I want to know [Him] and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in his death, and so somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.  And that’s what matters most, isn’t it?

*Note: I first read about the concept of  “both/and” vs. “either/or” in the writings of Stephen K. Ray. It’s applicable to many aspects of our Christian faith.

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