Several years ago I was at taking a group of first graders around the church and telling them about all the statues and symbols and just what everything was. As we walked near the sanctuary one kid looked up at the large crucifix behind that altar and asked, “what’s that?” The whole class went silent – absolutely silent – as they waited and listened because whether they had looked at a crucifix and thought about it before or not, they knew that there was much more to it than anyone had told them so far. With that one question I suddenly went from showing them neat things, to showing them the only thing that really matters.
Perhaps to my own shame, I hadn’t even thought of pointing the crucifix out to them or any of the other grades I was taking through the church. The crucifix is a familiar sight to us. It’s in all of our churches, usually front and center, it’s in all of our homes, it’s even still a common thing to see hanging around someone’s neck. It is so familiar that it took a child’s ignorance and curiosity to remind me to stop and look at it. But to look at the Crucifix is to look at Jesus in all his suffering and brokenness and to know that His Passion is a result of our sin. Someone who loved us, someone who was innocent… we caused that to happen, and woe to us if we try to hide from that fact.
At the start of Gospel, Jesus said that just as the serpent was lifted up in the desert by Moses, so must the Son of Man be lifted up. In the desert the Israelites were straying from their devotion to God and losing their trust in Him, and as result of their sinfulness God sent serpents to bite them as punishment. Then he instructed Moses to make a bronze serpent and to mount it on a pole, so that when people gazed upon the serpent and would see the consequences of their sin, and would be healed by the recognition that forsaking God leads to suffering. The serpents were the consequences of sin, and Jesus lifted up on the Cross is the result of sin. By holding that before our eyes and humbling ourselves before God, we find His mercy.
And most importantly, as we look at the Crucifix and the sin within our own hearts, we do so knowing that God’s love for us is so great that he willing gave His Son that we might believe and have life. As we look at the Crucifix instead of despairing at what we have done, instead of letting ourselves be consumed by guilt, we look at our sin and know that we have been saved, that we have been forgiven. If only we will look to Christ and allow our hearts to be changed by what we see.
So this Lent I invite you to try this. Look at a crucifix, read the Gospel and the story of the passion, pray the Stations of the Cross, do something… do something that puts the Crucifix before your eyes so that you can’t look away. And know that you are not condemned because you have seen and have believed and have been brought into the light.
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Homilies are meant to be heard, not read… and part of the Eucharistic liturgy, not words that stand alone. Please remember that no homily is written with this blog in mind.