Have you ever cried in a thrift store before? I couldn’t say that I had until that afternoon. It was cold. Rainy. The fall leaves almost burned your retinas they were so bright against the cloudy sky. I told mom we should stop at the thrift store just to walk a bit. Get some exercise.
I had promised myself that I wouldn’t buy anything. Again, I would put my foot in my mouth, because I did. But as we looked around I found a section of iconic Christian symbols. The thrift store was Catholic so it was never a surprise to find a Virgin Mary or two on the shelf, waiting for a good home after the death of a loved one…or worse, the lost faith of a broken soul. It always made me somewhat sad to see this images laying there on the shelf. I wondered if it was one who lost their faith, too broken to pray and too burdened to be freed. I often felt that myself, and I haven’t given up….yet.
On the shelf one crucifix caught my eye. It was unlike the others. Christ was portrayed in a beautifully contrasting pewter color on your standard not quite too dark stained cross. But what was different about this portrayal wasn’t the contrast of metal versus wood stain, but rather the pose of Christ.
He actually looked dead.
His head drooped in a manner that suggested either death or devastating exhaustion. His face was somewhat twisted and vague. His arms stretched uncomfortably on each side, causing my shoulders to ache empathetically. His knees bent outward, protruding painfully as his feet seemed to twist on their nail. Every muscle in the body looked painfully strained. This Jesus wasn’t upright with a calm Anglo-Saxon face looking up to the heavens in a content manner. This Jesus felt suffering, was twisting in His agony, or at the very least hinted at a twisting that had now ceased leaving a broken body behind.
This was my Jesus. I teared up a little, trying to choke down the emotion.
I carried the cross around the store, beyond conflicted and deeply emotional. I wasn’t one who appreciated iconography in churches. I didn’t believe in a white Anglo-Saxon Jesus, but one that was Jewish, and probably had pretty dark skin from all the walking. He may have even had a red glow to Himself, simply because He was sunburned. But, that was beside the point. I am a Graphic Artist, and as much as I love the visual, I struggled, and continue to struggle, with the concept of trying to decipher the true image of God and Christ. So I paced around the store. Looking at every item I could intently, but truthfully absent minded. How would it be to have an image of Christ that gave me, perhaps an incorrect idea of His image? What does that mean for me morally?
Then after a moment of stillness as I looked at a fairly new military issued gas mask, I wondered if I was over thinking it? Christ didn’t have a face that I could see, but I could feel Him. I could feel that warmth and that kindness, and feel that forgiveness and that disappointment when I did things wrong. I could feel the human heartbreak that He must have felt at one point or another. He must have been depressed at one point in His life too. Maybe right there on the cross?
Christ wasn’t physical to me like He was to the disciples. He was built on faith. Sightless faith. One where I had to trust more and more when I was confused and one that allowed me beautiful emotional feelings and conflict when I didn’t have eyes to see. That crucifix wasn’t so much visual as it was emotional. Though it served both purposes well.
So I bought it. Which felt weird. It felt weirder to buy it with that gas mask. I felt like an odd homeschooler getting ready for Armageddon, when in actuality I just wanted the gas mask for a potential photography project. It also felt weird to hand over cash and coins like the Pharisees did to Judas, but in hindsight, that was all a small part of my already ongoing spiritual experience. Or maybe I was just being too allegorical? I don’t know. All I knew was seeing that crucifix moved me, and this was how I chose to respond.
It hangs on my wall now. A reminder that Christ took it like a man, but a human one. A perfect man with an imperfect body that house perfect divinity. But he was still a human too. One with fear. One with agony. One who actually lived, was tortured, and died.
A lot of the time I think we forget He died, which is kind of ironic. We get so wrapped up in the rising again, that we forget Jesus was fully human and fully God, and actually died a human death. He stopped breathing. He went limp on that cross. His joints and bones probably twisted and popped as his body fell. His flesh tore more on the nails that held him. He cried out, before His lungs fully exhaled and His soul was gone. When they pulled Him down, the nails probably made a graphic sucking and breaking crunch as they pulled Him off His nails. Each tiny bone in his hands and feet cracking further as they pulled it over each nail, not bothering to remove the already deeply set steel from the wood beams.
His family wept. Now I weep.
Why? Why do it? To save miserable souls like me. My Christ died as an act of love, that was passed off as an act of public humiliation and entertainment. This crucifix reminds me of the beauty and shame of the cross He bore so I didn’t have to.