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Posts Tagged "The Cross":

‘Those Who Passed By’: a Good Friday Reflection by Taylor Carey



This image, which was originally posted to, was uploaded to Commons using Flickr upload bot on 20:01, 11 May 2014 (UTC) by Jonund (talk)


Mark 15:29-32

In a culture which grasps rather than attends, and abstracts rather than embodies, we have a problem with human weakness. We are, in fact, disgusted by it, for it shatters our illusion of omnipotence. And the trouble is that we prefer the fiction.

And so we project our disgust onto everyone and everything that dares remind us of our inescapable messiness, limits, and diversity. ‘We hate the poor’ (or words to that effect), said a provocative advertisement on Market Street some weeks ago. And the truth is that too much of our culture, including much of what passes for our religion, can find nothing but contempt for those who would muddy the crystalline waters of our imagined perfection; those who persist in being poor, female, mentally ill, gay, or just in disagreement with us. We heap our disgust onto them. But this is a terrible continuation of a costly fiction. Projective disgust involves ‘the displacement of self-repudiation’ onto those too vulnerable to wrench themselves from their cross.[1]

‘Those who passed by hurled insults at him’. If our most cherished fiction is our total self-reliance, our untrammelled ability to manipulate the tool shed we call ‘the environment’, is it then surprising that so many regard the image of a helpless God, nailed to a tree, as offensive and disturbing? Yet, this is where God is to be found, and found as most totally being God. The Cross is not some mechanical process of celestial justice; it is – radically – the outworking of God’s inner nature. He is to be found most supremely in the very depths of rejection and despair. And Christian thinkers like Martin Luther and St John of the Cross have recognised the need for us to spend time kneeling there with Him, letting our own projects and projections break against the gnarled wood of that blessed tree. Here is the ‘fairest of the children of men’ who, at the same time, in the words of Isaiah, has ‘no beauty or majesty to attract us to him’.[2] The beautiful, disgusting God.

We stand today beside a testament to the madness of a humanity so enraptured by its self-sufficiency that it cannot recognise the very basis upon which human dignity and community are forged. The memory of Patrick Hamilton, taunted and burned here, forces us to recognise our own habits of projective disgust. If, as the American writer Marilynne Robinson puts it, ‘community…consists very largely of imaginative love for people we do not know’, we must surely recognise the centrality to any society of a properly humanising education, one that introduces challenge and diversity, whilst cultivating generosity and trust.[3] One that looks beyond the obviously impressive, to those neglected fenlands of beauty hidden in every face and behind every eye.

Walt Whitman once wrote some beautiful words to this effect. He said:

There is, in sanest hours, a consciousness, a thought that rises, independent, lifted out from all else, calm, like the stars, shining eternal. This is the thought of identity — yours for you, whoever you are, as mine for me.  [4]

For Whitman, as for so many who have knelt before the Cross, Christ’s call from the depths of His agony will only be answered when that vision of the unique human spirit – loved into existence and charged with God’s grandeur – is put at the heart of our lives together. When the outcast, the stranger, the weak, and the lonely are brought in; when we truly inhabit ourselves again, radically attuned to the sheer inexhaustibility of God’s love, in the very midst of our frailty and weakness.

This is the wish of a God who gives Himself upon the Cross that He might be All in All. Many pass by and hurl insults at Him. But let us stay here with Him, that we might gaze upon the depths of His beauty.




[1] Martha C. Nussbaum, Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (Princeton, 2010), p.33.

[2] Psalm 45:2 and Isaiah 53:2 respectively. In the current form of the Divine Office, the latter forms the antiphon for the former during Holy Week Vespers. For a (truly) beautiful reflection and exposition on this paradoxical theme, see Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, ‘The Feeling of Things, the Contemplation of Beauty’ (2002)

[3] Marilynne Robinson, When I Was a Child I Read Books (London, 2012), p.21.

[4] Walt Whitman, ‘Democratic Vistas’, in Specimen Days & Collect (Philadelphia, 1882), pp.239-240.

‘The Cross: Meditations And Images’ by Serena Fass

The Cross 001Reflections on the Cross through Images

Foreword by Abbot Timothy Wright OSB

“The Cross, however designed, represents the most horrific way any human being could die. It symbolises the worst that humans do to each other. It shows the most degrading way of treating the human body and is the most cruel method of extinguishing a human life. It allows no comfort to those who stand and watch their loved ones die. Crucifixion degrades judge, executioner, victim and observer. It still continues.

Beyond this degradation, Christians have been empowered to see something greater, and new, emerging from the crucified corpse of the God who became Man, in Jesus Christ. Like so many millions of others, before and since, he was a victim. Nothing in his behaviour was criminal enough to deserve such a capital sentence. The authorities of his time thought differently. To them he was a threat to their power, for Jesus healed people, he did not exploit them. Even on holy days when ‘work’ was not permitted, he brought healing, repairing broken bodies, giving life to the dead, even controlling nature – disempowering wind, expanding a few loaves to feed multitudes, walking on water to save his struggling friends.

Such work can only be a threat to those who hunger for the power to exploit.

That power is destructive, of the victim and the agent, of community and humanity.

Power used for selfish ends always destroys someone else. The power that Jesus brought to the world was a power to affirm, to heal, to expand. Nowhere was this power more convincingly shown than in the manner of his death. He alone held the key to unlock the door, closed tight till then for the whole of human history…the empty tomb, followed by Jesus’ real appearance to Mary Magdalene, changed it all. No wonder the disciples who met the Risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus were so astonished. It is precisely that astonishment we recall when we look at the Cross. Death no longer has any power, not just for a few, but for anyone who sees the Cross as the gift of life, a gift to be shared with the ‘other’, not possessed for myself. That is what makes the Cross unique and precious. Without  it the future is increased pain, suffering and despair. With it we look forward with hope and trust to eternal joy in the presence of God.

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him. This is the message of the Cross…”


Lay Anglicana Review

I must begin by declaring an interest, in the sense that Serena and I have known each other for more years than I can remember, mostly through our shared love of India. Our lives seem intertwined, rather like ‘A Dance To The Music of Time‘ and we recently met again serendipitously at morning service in our Hampshire church.

Serena is a brilliant photographer, and the illustrations alone make a wonderful collection of images of the Cross. Perhaps a quarter of the pictures are of crucifixes, indisputably Christ on the cross. They are from every age and every tradition: ‘from Jerusalem, first through the Middle East and Turkey, then to the Orthodox world [including] the Greeks and the Russians, the Copts and the early independent churches of the Armenians and the Georgians’.  Then…the Catholic Mediterranean, [northern Europe] and the empires of the Portuguese, the Spanish and the British.’

You will find it hard not to look first at the images. But you will miss much if you don’t go on to explore the accompanying meditations, which are also a delight: what could be a better accompaniment to Lent and the road to Calvary?

Depending on which tradition you come from, you may find the crucifix a compelling image or hard to ‘gaze and gaze upon‘.  I admit that I find it hard to ponder the meaning of the Crucifixion when confronted with the horror of the death itself. And the artist’s interpretation I also find intrusive. For me, it is more helpful to have a plain cross to contemplate as it provides a focus as well as allowing the imagination free rein. Serena is ahead of me on this, in that perhaps half of the images are of simple crosses, although in contexts which are again in  incontrovertible reference to the Crucifixion as a summary of our faith.

The remainder are occurrences of the cross as a simple geometric shape. The originator may or may not have intended any Christian reference. They are embroidered, or painted, or sculpted, or the calyx of a passion flower, or, most wondrously, in the markings of a donkey’s coat. Interspersed with the other images throughout the book, they are like the madeleines of Proust,  evoking involuntary memories and:

A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
         Exalted manna, gladness of the best,
         Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
         Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,
         The land of spices; something understood.

Reviews and Publisher’s Comments

Serena Fass has compiled a collection of many important and beautiful representations of the Cross. Spanning different strands of the Christian faith from the earliest Christians in Pompeii to the present day, and criss-crossing the globe from Norway to Zimbabwe and Peru to Australia. Works are illustrated in a variety of media including architecture, painting, sculpture, ivories, textiles, metalwork, jewellery, as well as examples of the cross manifest in nature. Serena has tried to convey the wide variety of cultural representations that illustrate Jesus’s great commission to “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation”  (Mark 16:15)
“These images, gathered in one place, are an unique experience for the believer and nonbeliever alike. They are extraordinary artistic representations of great beauty from all over the world. Serena Fass’s passion to follow her path is palpable as you turn the pages.”
– David Verey, Chairman of the Art Fund

“…a beautiful book.”
           Mark Amory, The Spectator

Serena Fass has compiled what can only be described as a breath-taking archive… A beautifully designed and well thought out book.”
          Margaret Daniels, The Methodist Recorder

“…a handsome book.”
           Brendon Walsh, The Tablet
416pp • 195x292mm

Picture List price: £25.00

A donation from the proceeds of this book is being made to the Welsh Guards Afghanistan Appeal
Serena Fass is well-served by her publisher, Gilgamesh, specialists on the world of the Middle East from which sprang Christianity and the Cross. If you order directly from them, quoting this review, they will sell it at a £5 discount.

Good Friday: The Cross And Its Demands – Evelyn Underhill


It is not the act of a good disciple,’ says Saint John of the Cross, ‘to flee from the Cross in order to enjoy the sweetness of an easy piety.’

So here above all, by the Crucifix and what it means to us, we test the quality of our discipleship. What we think about the Cross means ultimately what we think about life, for ‘seek where you will,’ says à Kempis, ‘everywhere you will find the Cross.’ And when you have found it, what are you going to do about it? That is the question: look at it with horror or with adoration?

It has been said that the whole life of Christ was a Cross. I think that saying that does grave injustice to its richness of response, to the real expansion and joy and beauty of His contacts with nature, children, friends,; the true happiness we find again in the saints nearest to Him; the hours snatched for the deep joy of prayer and communion; the outburst of rejoicing when He discerns the Father’s Will. But it was the deep happiness of the entirely self-abandoned, not the easy shallow satisfaction of those who live to express themselves and enjoy themselves; that Perfect Joy which Saint Francis rediscovered in abjection; and which was ratified on La Verna when he was caught into the supernatural order and sealed with the wounds of Christ.

There is a marked contrast between the first phase of the Ministry with its confident movement within the natural world; mending what is wrong with it, using what is right in it and sharing the social life of men, and that after the Transfiguration, the second phase, with its sense of a deepening conflict with that easy, happy world; the conviction that what is deeply wrong with it can only be mended by sacrifice; that the Suffering Servant is the one who serves His brethren best. ‘Take up  the Cross if you wish to follow Me!”

The spiritually natural life is charming, but it stops short of all that God asks of the really surrendered soul.

It was in the Passion, says Saint John of the Cross, that Christ ‘finished that supreme work which His whole life, its miracles and works of power, had not accomplished: the union and reconciliation of human nature with the life of God.’ Here we learn all that it means to acknowledge Him as our Way, our Truth and our Life. I suppose no soul of any sensitiveness can live through Holy Week without an awed and grateful sense of being incorporated in a mystery of self-giving love which yet remains far beyond our span.

Evelyn Underhill

Light of Christ 1932
The illustration is by Ib Rasmussen and is in Sakramentskirken, Copenhagen, Denmark. Crucifix over the left gallery. Via Wikimedia.

“He Opened Wide His Arms For Us On The Cross”: Chris Fewings


Today is Holy Cross Day. We’re told Jesus “opened wide his arms for us on the cross”, but it’s easy for Christians to forget that the cross was an instrument of torture and execution. You wouldn’t expect to go into church and see a noose hanging from the ceiling, or an electric chair in front of the altar. We sing hymns like “I’ll cherish the old rugged cross” almost as if the cross were a teddy bear.

Why do we say “the tree of shame has become the tree of glory”? Why should dwelling on the pain and death of one man heal us? Perhaps because Jesus accepts his pain and reaches out from it to us. When I’m in pain, I tend to curl up and turn my back on people, or snap at them to keep them away. Jesus stretches wide has arms and says, I can survive this. I’m not going to kick back against the people who caused me pain. When I’m gone, I want my best friend to look after my mum and my mum to look after my best friend. I want to wrap my wings around all of you in your pain. I don’t want you to suffer alone.

So we lift high the cross. We believe that in Jesus our pain and suffering can be transformed. And this can happen by contemplating the cross. When we stop our busy lives to look at this image of a man in pain who is not crushed by that pain, and who is not cut off from us in his pain, we wonder. The spirit of Jesus, the spirit of sonship, the spirit of the little child who trusts his parents, can breathe through us and we cry out Father, I place myself in your hands. Life, universe, mother, I trust you. Either this cup will pass, or you will give me strength to bear it. And the possibility opens up of opening our arms to others, in spite of the pain, instead of closing ourselves off.

I love the hymn The Old Rugged Cross. Maybe that’s because it does encourage us to look to Jesus when we are suffering. But there is a danger in cherishing or clinging to the cross. There is a fine line between learning to accept and grow through our pain on the one hand, and secretly hanging on to it on the other. I’ve caught myself thinking “My pain is greater than yours” or “no one can understand me – my pain is special”. Pain competitions cut us off from each other. Suffering is something which can unite us, because we all experience it.

So what did Jesus mean when he invited us to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow him? It’s an invitation to freely accept what life throws at us. It’s our duty to avoid unnecessary pain, but there’s stuff we can’t avoid – so why fight it? Better to contemplate it like the cross: simply look at it and let it be.

The church presents the cross not only as a remedy for pain but as a remedy for sin: the pain we inflict on others. A lot of pain is caused directly by other people, deliberately or otherwise. It may be by a drunken driver, by someone you live with, or by someone who can’t love you. We may deliberately hurt people we know, to get back at them, or we may hurt people on the other side of the world by the careless way we live our lives and use resources like petrol or electricity or plastic.

Sin means separation: from God, from other people, from the deepest part of ourselves. From the natural world, which will nurture us if we let it. Cutting ourselves off by thinking of ourselves as different or special, either much better or much worse than other people. Cutting ourselves off from others may make us feel safer or easier, but it often hurts us and them.

Jesus stretches wide his arms and says, It stops here: I’m not going to lash out, and I’m not going to run away. In certain circumstances we may need to protect ourselves from other people. At other times we may need to confront them. Earlier in his public life, Jesus slipped away from his enemies. A few days before his crucifixion, he had a go at the money-changers in the temple. But when it came to the crunch, he followed the path of non-violence to the point of no return.

In different ways, we can stretch out our arms to the people who are causing us pain, even if they don’t mean to, or don’t even realise they’ve hurt us. There is no guarantee those people will respond the way we want them to. But we gain nothing by lashing out. And in the end, we have much to gain by not running away.

Jesus stretching wide his arms is the glory of the cross and the glory of the resurrection. Out of the freely accepted pain and bewilderment of the crucifixion comes the excitement – and the puzzle – of the resurrection. Who is this man? Who walks beside us on the dusty road? Who eats breakfast with us at the side of the lake? Who gives himself to us in this bread and wine which we offer to him? It’s the Son of Man, the ordinary bloke, the one who challenges us to recognise him in everyone.

If we let go of our fear of other people just a little bit, if we stretch out a hand to someone who has hurt us or may hurt us, we may get slapped in the face. Whether that happens or not, we may find ourselves changing and find a little Easter sunrise when we least expect it, and after that no doubt another crucifixion, and another Easter, from glory to glory.


This is an edited version of a talk given at St Paul’s Balsall Heath. Chris Fewings blogs at


The main illustration is the Volto Santo from Lucca Cathedral and can be seen here. By Joanbanjo. The second is a bronze by Iturria.  Both downloaded under CCL from Wikimedia.

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