When I visit various churches, I usually encounter one of two symbols – a crucifix or an empty cross. During my recent hospital stay, however, I came across a symbol I hadn’t seen before.
While propped up in bed doing my morning meditation, I noticed what looked like a crucifix – only different somehow – hanging on the wall a few feet away. I had begun to recover after a stint in intensive care, so I got out of bed and walked over to take a closer look.
Jesus stood in front of the cross – alive – his arms outstretched as if beckoning me to follow him.
When I looked it up online later, I saw the cross advertised on a Catholic web site as “The Risen Christ.” I’m pretty sure it’s been around for a while and I had simply never noticed it. At any rate, I liked this particular cross.
The traditional crucifix reminds us of Christ’s suffering and sacrifice on Good Friday, while the empty cross prompts us to meditate on Easter and the resurrection. But as I stood looking at the cross in front of me on that Sunday morning just before the beginning of Lent, I found myself meditating on a different subject: “What does it mean to actually follow Jesus?”
I must say that question took on a bit more urgency in the face of a medical trauma that forced me to look my own mortality straight in the eye without blinking. Not only that, but my mother had just been in the hospital twice in as many months, and I’ve had to face the fact that I may not have her in my life much longer. For good measure, my brother-in-law was hospitalized the same time I was and both my cats had just been diagnosed with chronic medical conditions. Yikes!
The cross on the hospital room wall seemed like an appropriate symbol for the occasion. It not only signified the death and resurrection of Jesus, but the cross we all are asked to bear when we become followers. There will be hardship, sacrifice and struggle, the Bible tells us. But this cross also reminded me that we can overcome hard times with God’s help.
This morning I encountered the same “Risen Christ” symbol again, this time at church.
The altar was all decked out for the Easter Sunday service. A white cloth and a crown of white and yellow flowers draped the empty cross. Easter lilies and other spring flowers filled the entire front of the church. The sanctuary was gorgeous! As was the music – complete with a trumpet, maracas and drums. (The photos below don’t begin to do the scene justice.)
In the middle of all this, I saw the now-familiar figure of “The Risen Christ” on the processional cross carried down the aisle and placed in a stand behind the altar. Jesus was alive, arms outstretched, beckoning us all to follow.
Congregation members and our minister exchanged this greeting:
“Christ is risen!”
“Christ is risen indeed!”
In her sermon, our minister spoke of emerging from our personal “tombs” – sickness, loss of loved ones, broken relationships – and I reflected on the hospital rooms I’d been in over the past couple of months.
As I came forward for communion, I thanked God for having shepherded me – and my mother and my husband and my brother-in-law and my cats – through this unusually challenging Lenten season.
And the real Risen Christ, alive and present among us, seemed to say, “You won’t be able to avoid pain and suffering, but you will transcend it.”
Happy Easter, everyone!