creches and crucifixes

Crucifixes can scare Lutherans.

Even good Lutherans.

The kinds of Lutherans who like to sing hymns with their families on Christmas Eve and who write checks each Sunday and who love their pastor right down to his white socks and black shoes.


That’s their seminarian.

Still, we stiffen up a little when we see a crucifix. It’s uncomfortable.

crucifix1It’s not the Jesus we like. We like the Good Shepherd Jesus, the one surrounded by wandering sheep. Or the smiling Jesus, holding little children in His arms. Or the Jesus robed in white, exiting from His three-day rest in the tomb.

The Jesus on the cross is harder to stomach.

He’s weak. His arms are pulled taught. His knees are buckled. His rib cage is showing. His head lolls.

This isn’t the Jesus we’re accustomed to: this seemingly defenseless Jesus.

Heck, we’d take the Jesus of table-flipping temple fame over this.

It’s why we say we like the empty cross instead of the full one: because that’s the Jesus we know. The Jesus who is risen, triumphant, victorious. The Jesus who settled the matters of sin, death and the devil once and for all.

But Advent and Christmas teach us something else.

We keep our baby Jesuses in our manger scenes this time of year, don’t we?

We leave Him comfortably cradled in straw, sandwiched between Mary and Joseph, right?

We do that because it reminds us that He became incarnate, that He became as one of us, that He spit up and had diaper blow-outs and wriggled out of His blanket and then cried because He was cold.

We don’t leave the manger empty because He is no longer a child. We don’t take Him out of the creche because His childlike weakness makes us uncomfortable.

No, we leave Him there because He teaches us something about Himself: that He is man, that He has experienced all that we have, that He is humble, that He is not above suffering on our behalf.

So, too, we don’t need to fear the crucifix. We know that Jesus is no longer hanging between thieves, but we can, without fear, see Him on the cross because it reminds us that He hung in agony for us, that He bled and felt pain and cried out so that we would not have to.

It reminds us that the way in which He loved this world was to die for us.

He is no longer dead. He lives. He is no longer in the manger. He is all grown up.

But just as we do not need to leave the manger empty, we don’t have to leave the cross empty either. They are both good and helpful visual reminders of our Lord — born, burped, writhing and risen — all for us.

And for the faithful, that’s not scary at all.

4 thoughts on “creches and crucifixes

  1. The problem with the empty cross is several people say “it symbolizes the resurrection”. No, it’s a symbol of death. If you want a symbol of the resurrection why not hang an empty tomb around your next or on your wall? The tomb is what did not hold him. The cross, on the other hand, will always be a symbol of death. The only reason the cross is empty is that Christ died and was taken down and put in the tomb. That being said, Adrian is right on. The crucifix is what should be front and center so we, along with Paul proclaim, “We preach Christ and him crucified.”

  2. An eloquent defense of crucifixes. My husband’s been arguing for years that crucifixes are preferable to crosses, but I’ve been slow to warm up to the idea. I grew up with the cross. It symbolizes the resurrection. But I have to admit, the arguments in favor of crucifixes are theologically stronger, as you point out here. Another perspective changer for me: Pastor Matthew Lorfield’s point on the Messiah Lutheran site ( that “the cross would have been empty irregardless of whether or not Christ was raised.” So much for that whole “symbol of the resurrection” idea.

  3. May I add, In reality and in the really old art Jesus was also bare naked dying/dead on that cross. Our own fear of shame wrapped that towel around his waste (but that belongs to the night before). The Roman soldiers took all his clothes. That is the way it was done. But who wants to look at a naked God? How embarrassing to our puritan sensibilities, but the crucifix teaches us about what’s left of our sin after Jesus deals with them. No place to hide them. They are there on him and the disturbance that we may see is the sin God the Father doesn’t see in or on us anymore.

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