St. Johns church in Horsham, England has had the same dark crucifix since 1963, the year the church doors were first opened. It was designed by Edward Bainbridge Copnall, a sculptor who artfully constructed the crucifix out of coal dust and resin.
When I first read the Reverand Souter’s quotes about removing the long standing icon from the front of his parish I thought maybe I was reading a satire story on Larknews or The Onion.
"The crucifix expressed suffering, torment, pain and anguish. It was a scary image, particularly for children. Parents didn't want to walk past it with their kids, because they found it so horrifying. It wasn't a suitable image for the outside of a church wanting to welcome worshippers. In fact, it was a real put-off."But this story isn’t a joke, nor is the fact that the cross is, as the Apostle Paul shares (in 1 Corinthians 1:23) a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. I’m not sure how best to put that sentiment into words today. Perhaps it’s the idea that the message of a tortuous death didn’t make sense to the religious crowd who were instead looking for a glorious deliverance. Nor did it make any sense to the pagans, who saw no wisdom in the horrific murder of a man/prophet/teacher who had great potential. The cross is such a picture of brokenness, of shame, of weakness. It is impossible for humanity to comprehend, even remotely consider the Supreme Being being humiliated in that way. Yet it is out of that horrific sacrifice of Christ’s death that God’s love and his power were demonstrated in such finality that the moment continues to shake all of creation. It has certainly shaken me.
“We're all about hope, encouragement and the joy of the Christian faith. We want to communicate good news, not bad news, so we need a more uplifting and inspiring symbol than execution on a cross."
It is with the same brokenness and humility of Christ on the cross that Paul shared with others about Jesus’ death (read his first letter to the Corinthian church, especially the first several pages). He didn’t do it with a bullhorn, with great speeches or angry debate. We should consider his example today.
So should Reverend Souter leave up the religious icon because it has been the tradition of his church? Maybe not. Does it honor Jesus by having it up? I’m not sure of that either, but I can’t imagine Jesus telling us a story of the Kingdom of God with any cross as the backdrop. So does it dishonor him by taking it down from the church building? probably not if the pastor is right about it scaring away the very people in the neighborhood that he is trying to attract.
Still, I’d feel a whole lot better about his decision if it wasn’t for the fact that he is replacing the scary sculpture for a modern, stainless steel cross. Reverand Souter’s words that the new cross will present “a positive message of hope” on the side of his church is chilling to me. You can’t sanitize the crucifixion. At least you shouldn’t. Copnall’s art sounds like it evokes a response, which is appropriate. I am glad that his sculpture has been moved to a local museum where it can be appreciated for the abhorrent scene it depicts.
But I’ve saved my strongest ire for the last. One “long-standing” member of the church, which is a kind way of saying something else, had the following opinions:
"The crucifix is the oldest and most famous symbol of the Christian church. Pulling it down and putting up something that would look more at home on the side of a flashy modern shopping centre is not the way to get more bums on seats. Next they'll be ripping out the pews and putting sofas in their place, or throwing out all the Bibles and replacing them with laptops. It's just not right."You are arguing about icons, focused on yourself, stuck in your seats, and forgetting who this whole sweet conversation is supposed to be about: Jesus!
Score one point for Religion (since it trumped tradition in this story) and another for the peers of Oral Roberts.