Let me ask you a question, just how beautiful is the body of Christ? Following my sudden blindness sixteen months ago and during the recovery period that followed there was one thing I longed to see. In the front of my church there is a beautiful life size cross with Jesus hanging on it. In the blurred state of my vision I could make out the shape of the cross, but I could not make out the depiction of Christ on the cross. I longed to see this image of Christ because it is a sign of God’s gratuitous and unwarranted love for me. Now, with my sight somewhat restored, I invite you to see what I now see, the beauty of the body of Christ.There is a song written by Ann Wilson called “How Beautiful.” Yes, even on the cross, our Lord is beautiful! I am blessed to be able to see Him again. This song contains these words:How beautiful the heart that bled That took all my sin and bore it instead How beautiful the tender eyes That chose to forgive and never despise How beautiful, how beautiful How beautiful is the body of Christ
In a quote from the book Mortal Lessons Notes on the Art of Surgery, by Richard Selzer, MD I find an interesting similarity between the beauty contained in this story and the beauty that I see when I look at the crucified Christ.”I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth has been severed. She will be thus from now on. The surgeon had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh; I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had to cut the little nerve. Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private. Who are they, I ask myself, he and this wry mouth I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously, greedily? The young woman speaks, “Will my mouth always be like this?” she asks. “Yes,” I say, “it will. It is because the nerve was cut.” She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles. “I like it,” he says, “It is kind of cute.” “All at once I know who he is. I understand and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a god. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth and I am so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show her that their kiss still works.”
I said above that I find an analogy here between this story and our Lord as He hung on the cross. Let me ask you, have we so desensitized ourselves to Christ’s death on the cross so as to eviscerate the reality of the pain and agony associated with this indescribably cruel form of execution? I personally believe that through His sinless broken body Jesus not only took our sins like lust, envy, pride, jealousy, adultery, murder and greed but He took the broken aspects of this world like addictions of every type, disease, broken relationships, loneliness and unhealed wounded spirits and He allowed them to be nailed to the cross as well.Our various denominations differ as to how we display the cross. Catholics use a Crucifix with Jesus still present on the cross as a stark reminder of the pain He endured for our sins. Other denominations use only the bare cross as their remembrance of the darkest day in human history on that Friday so long ago.Please do not see my words here today as an attack on the tradition of the empty cross but instead please enter into my world for a few minutes to see the beauty of what my eyes now see each and every time I gaze upon this representation of our Lord’s mangled body. I felt deprived when my vision was gone and I am now blessed to see Him again.Most Catholic artists have chosen to depict our Lord wearing a loin cloth as He hangs on the cross. It is as if the artist wants to protect Him from the embarrassment and shame He actually endured while hanging there naked.
Easter Sunday is the most celebrated day on the Christian calendar; however it was not the resurrection that took away our sins. We cannot arrive at Easter Sunday without first passing through Good Friday. The price for our sins was paid by Christ’s indescribably painful death on the cross. I feel a need to stare upon our Lord’s crucified body regularly. I never want to take forgranted the enormity of God’s love for me. This mangled, contorted, naked man, this lamb that was slain, gave everything for me. For me the crucifix stands as a perpetual sign that it was my sins that landed our Lord in such a wretched condition.The crucified Christ should not make us feel guilty, quite the contrary, it should help us to fully experience the enormity of God’s love and mercy. In 2 Corinthians 5:19 Paul writes: “I mean God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not holding anyone’s faults against them, but entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” I want to be on my knees every chance I get, gazing up at my broken Lord so that the depth of His love is seared into my very soul.In the story above, the husband because of his deep love, could not turn away from his wife’s contorted face or avoid kissing her twisted lips. So too I want to embrace this image of my loving Lord, and His twisted face and dry, parched and lifeless lips as He stares down on me with loving eyes from His cross. I am blessed to be able to share with you what I can once again see. I now see the bridegroom of the church, blowing me a kiss with twisted lips from a cross. His kiss of love will echo throughout eternity.
I leave you with the question I started with, how beautiful is the body of Christ?Lord, please forgive me for my sins the ones that nailed you to that cross, amen!