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He’s Still On The Cross?

November 15, 2010

This post was edited to correct a mistake I made on originally posting it. 11/16/10

When I was still attending Calvary Chapel (an Fundamentalist type church) I would often hear how wrong it was to portray Jesus as still on the cross, as found on crucifixes. The pastor would always say, “He is risen and no longer on the cross! They don’t get that. They are so focused on His suffering, they do not live the Resurrection life!” or something to that effect. We prided ourselves on being people who understood that Christ has risen, and will come again some day. We live in hope, while “those people” lived in legalism and despair, because “their Christ” is still on the cross.

Such an understanding is first arrogant, but also fails to understand a great many other things. Father Stephen Freeman has excellent teachings about the error of viewing the Cross as a past event, and the Second Coming as sometime in the future. You can access his blog via the blogroll under “Glory To God For All Things” or his podcasts on Ancient Faith Radio. Excellent reflections that will give you hours of stuff to meditate on, in just a few minutes.

In learning about the teachings of the Fathers, Traditions and prayers of the Church, my former Dispensational understanding of the Bible and eschatology has slowly been broken down, and washed away. In its place is growing the understanding of the Kingdom of Heaven as now. In its place is growing the true understanding of the divinity of Christ.

One of the hymns of the Church declares that while Christ was on the Cross, He was also in paradise with the thief, in heaven at the right hand of the Father, and harrowing Hades. Basically the hymn is declaring the omnipresence of Christ as God, even while He was incarnate. If you think about it, it makes sense. In Revelation we see that Christ appears at the end of all things as a “Lamb having been slain” (literally just slain), and yet He was crucified before the foundation of the world. There is something beyond our comprehension that is the mystery of the Cross. When we unite ourselves to Christ in baptism, we unite to all of Him. His Incarnation, His Crucifixion and His Resurrection. That union is eternal, even here in time (from our perspective).

Note: The above reference is not a hymn, it is one of the prayers said by the priest during the Divine Liturgy. After the Great Entrance (procession with the bread and wine/Gifts) and the Litany, the priest sets down the Gifts and prays silently, while the choir sings. This is the part of the prayer I referred to above: “In the Grave with the body, but in Hades with the soul, as God; in Paradise with the Thief, and on the Throne with the Father and the Spirit wast Thou, O Christ, filling all things, Thyself uncircumscribed.” Powerful!

So while I can say Christ “was” born, slain and resurrected from our linear vantage-point, in reality those things are not merely past events which we remember. They are present realities we live in Him. I have come to understand that limiting these events to our temporal, linear understanding falls miserably short of the reality that is our salvation.

When I am in the Divine Liturgy, I am beginning to understand that I am not attending a service of “remembering” the crucifixion of Christ, and definitely not “re-crucifying” Him. God Forbid! That is biblically unthinkable. When I stand in the Nave of the Church in the Divine Service, I am experiencing the actual Crucifixion, in a mystery. As St Symeon proclaims, “O Awesome wonder!” For this reason I have no problem seeing Jesus depicted on the cross.

Lastly, I have come to learn that Jesus was not some kind of cosmic scapegoat that suffered at the hands of the Father, taking our punishment. He did in fact suffer our penalty of Death, but it was not wrath that He suffered. That cross, while it was a shame, it was also an open victory over and throwing down of the enemies of God. The Crucifixion went far beyond suffering, as a thing to sorrow over. While we do sorrow for our sins, and at the thought of the Pure One of God dying on our behalf, we see the Cross of Christ as His victory over death. His resurrection is the ultimate culmination of that victory, but He triumphed on the Cross too. So for that reason also, I do not see a problem with having Christ depicted as on the Cross.

No, it is not a failure to understand the Resurrected Christ, it is the fullest understanding of Him. If I was so qualified (which I am not) and had all the space in the world to write, I could not begin to touch on the mystery of the cross. As I grow along this journey, I continue to find new joys and wonders that are the Orthodox Christian Faith. If anyone knows the actual hymn reference that I mentioned above about Christ omnipresence, please let me know what it is, and where I can find it. Thanks

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. karina permalink
    November 15, 2010 8:57 pm

    Very interesting. I have read a couple of your blogs. Are you orthodox? Were you raised orthodox? I was baptized serbian orthodox.
    Just curious. You don’t sEe many orthodox around:)

    • November 15, 2010 9:27 pm

      I am actually a catechumen, and look forward to entering the Church as soon as I can under the direction of my priest. There are not very many Orthodox in the U.S. but the numbers are growing. There is a Serbian Orthodox parish I have heard about in San Diego that I am very interested in seeing. As a matter of fact, it was a contact I made with a Serbian Orthodox man that helped me in my journey toward the Orthodox Christian faith.
      Thanks for your comment. I wish more people did.

  2. Darlene permalink
    November 16, 2010 4:11 pm

    Jeremiah,

    This post has such meaning and depth. As an Evangelical Protestant (EP), I thought that the Atonement was an elementary doctrine and that as one matured in the faith, they were to move on to deeper matters of the faith. I think the reason was because once a person “accepted Christ” and His death on the cross for their sins, it was a once and done act.

    Now, I realize that it would take more than a lifetime to contemplate, understand, and fully appreciate the Cross of Christ. “When I survey the wondrous cross” in the Divine Liturgy, a beautiful phrase penned by Issac Watts by the way, I cannot help but be humbled in calling to mind the forgiveness of my sins. The crucifix reminds me to be thankful for forgiveness, and convicts me of sins of which I need to repent.

    It is dangerous to compartmentalize the life of our Lord. His incarnation, crucifixion, descent into Hades, resurrection, sitting at the right hand of the Father, and second coming are all mysteries which we should meditate upon regularly. None of these things are merely past events relegated to the annals of history or one specific period of time. They are living realities of our faith in the present moment – the Kingdom of God is in our midst.

    • November 16, 2010 11:24 pm

      Isn’t it interesting how we once thought of the Cross as an “elementary” part of salvation, not to mention the complete lack of regard for the Incarnation? I was standing in Liturgy one day, and this reflection began taking shape in my mind as I gazed upon the big cross with the icon of Christ on it.
      Thanks be to God for the richness and depth that has been deposited and maintained in His Church.
      Thanks again for commented. I always enjoy hearing from other Orthodox out there (non-orthodox too)

  3. November 20, 2010 6:27 am

    Glory to Jesus Christ!
    Jeremiah,
    In addition to your liturgical reflections, a key biblical passage to remember is Paul’s statement:

    1 And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. 2 For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. 3 I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. 4 And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

    Even when I went to Calvary Chapel I lamented the barren crosses that we would sell in our bookstore. But even still this lack of reflection upon the sufferings of Our Lord makes sense in a worldview that is ever expecting to escape any crosses, through this notion of a Rapture.

    May God have mercy on us and show us the glory of His holy life creating cross, that we may unite our sufferings into His passion.

    JAD
    p.s. You should post some stuff on our actual season right now though!

    • November 20, 2010 11:13 am

      Well said JD. Ya, I probably should share some reflections on my first full Nativity Fast, as I did not fully grasp nor participate in the Fast even just a year ago. Then again, there are so many great reflections on fasting out there already. But I can still share my own experience.
      Thanks again for sharing that important Scripture about the cross. I had no idea you lamented an empty cross back then. Interesting. I guess I always bought into the “He’s risen, so why have Him up there?” notion.

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