Our recent discussions around here about the “Stepping on Jesus” exercise in some college classrooms reminded me of an occasion when the power of a symbol hit me hard and left a mark. A half dozen years ago, when my wife and I lived in a small town in rural Virginia, our little Catholic parish acquired a beautiful statue of the crucified Christ, hollow-cast in bronze and immensely heavy as it was slightly larger than life-sized. It came just as a statue, packed carefully and shipped by the sculptor, and our pastor wanted it raised on a cross in the church. So one of our parishioners with woodworking skill set about constructing a massive cross out of heavy timber in order to bear the weight. Then he asked several of his friends to meet him at the church one summer afternoon to complete the job. I was one of the parishioners helping to attach Christ to the cross and then erecting the assembly you see below. The picture does not do the sculpture justice:
Christ’s hands and feet—just as in the crucifixion—were the attachment points and had been drilled already by the sculptor. I turned the wrench that attached one of the hands to the cross with a bolt, and then went up a ladder after the assembly was put upright, and tightened it still more. It was just a job of work with some hardware and tools, and it was just a sculpture made of bronze and a great timber cross, not even blessed by a priest yet before the job was done.
But I could not shake the feeling at the time—nor have I since—that I was myself crucifying Jesus. Perhaps it was because the statue was so life-sized and lifelike. Thinking of it right now gives me the heebie-jeebies. Saying to myself “it’s just a statue” doesn’t put away such thoughts. On Good Friday, this entirely “symbolic” experience gets to me still. I can’t say I’m sorry it does.
Happy Easter to all.