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Violence really gets to me. My husband often laughs at my reaction to movie scenes, TV shows, and CSI commercials: gasping, covering my eyes, and cowering in fetal position at sights that to him (and probably most of America) seem relatively mild. Even hard tackles during NFL games set my teeth on edge!
And so the Cross—the mind-numbingly painful and brutal reality of it all—well, it’s hard for me to swallow.
Several years back when The Passion of the Christ came out on DVD, we bought a copy. My bright idea was to watch it every Good Friday as an aid in contemplating Christ’s suffering and death.
It literally took me four years to follow up on that idea. For four Good Fridays in a row, despite my determination to go through with it, I just couldn’t bring myself to watch it. (I’d seen it in the theater, so I knew—very distinctly—what I was avoiding.)
The Crucifixion was not pretty and worship-inspiring, like some beautiful serene-faced marble sculpture of Christ on the cross. The reality of the Crucifixion is intense pain, blood, and gore—complete agony.
But it’s not just the violence itself that’s upsetting and unsettling. It’s why that violence happened that can be so difficult to come to terms with.
Here at my desk, it feels somewhat safe, spiritual, and academic to think and write about the Crucifixion—how through that act Jesus paid the penalty for our sin and vanquished death’s power in our lives. How on that cross Jesus bridged the gap between humanity and God, enabling us to have a restored and intimate relationship with our Creator.
But I write from the safety of distance and time. I’m not in first-century Palestine, watching it. Hearing it. Indeed even smelling it.
When I really face off with the Cross, I’m brought to my knees in my own agony over what I’ve done—what I still do—that put him there. I’m chastened, put right, and reoriented by the Cross. As Isaac Watts so poignantly put it, “When I survey the wondrous cross . . . [I] pour contempt on all my pride.”
Last year on Good Friday I finally got up the gumption to do it: I watched The Passion of the Christ and contemplated what Jesus did for me that day. It was just as horrible as I thought it would be.
But I’ll be doing it again this year . . . because I need the reminder that there’s no safe PG-version of the Cross. It’s not tame or palatable, but in its gravity we get a glimpse of the incomprehensible depth of Jesus’ love. We cry with Mary at the foot of the cross . . . but, wonderfully, we also join Christians across the centuries in proclaiming, “He is risen! He is risen indeed!”