I met a woman a number of years ago, a Catholic woman who said she didn’t like to come into Church. The reason she said she didn’t like coming to church she said was because she didn’t like to see the crucifix, that often you see when entering a church. All she saw, she claimed, when she looked at it was a sight of horror, it frightened her. A man nailed to a cross, horrifically treated and dying in agony. It is a sight, she said, to avert your eyes, you would never think of looking at something like this in real life, you would shield your eyes from looking on something so terrible and awful.
I remember thinking at the time it seemed an odd thing for someone to say, especially someone who had been brought up in faith. But the more I reflected on it, she was absolutely correct that is what we are seeing. A figure on an instrument of torture cruelly treated and put to death. We really should avert our eyes, it should be something that we don’t really want to look at. If such a thing were to happen today, no self respecting TV station or newspaper would show such a thing. They would tell us that they couldn’t show it because it was a scene of graphic violence.
But what she didn’t grasp perhaps there was another way of looking at this. With eyes of faith what was happening to this figure what had happened on the cross could be viewed differently. There was something in this man’s sufferings that touched all the sufferings of human beings. There was something in this broken figure of the cross that gave sense to everything. There is something that draws your eye to it rather than wanting to divert your eye from it. There is something in the nature of a sign given to humanity that carries a cross, that God knows we carry a cross and sends his own son to carry this cross which contains and absorbs all the suffering of the world.
In this person on the cross, Jesus, it is as if he is saying to all humanity what we hear in the Gospel “come to me all you who labour and overburdened and I will give you rest, for I am gentle and humble in heart”. In this figure on the cross, broken, beaten, tortured, badly treated and put to death is the peace that the human heart searches for . To all those who carry heavy burdens he will give rest. To those who struggle to go on he lifts them up. To those who have lost their way, he carries the cross. To those flattened by the miseries of life he carries the cross for them.
Instead of solely being an instrument of torture it becomes a redeeming, liberating sign from God above. That he has come to bear the burden, carry the weight, shoulder the yoke for us.
The girl I mentioned at the beginning was absolutely right, it is a pitiful sight to look on this figure on the cross. Its exactly as she observed, something horrific and terrifying. But what she didn’t see, somehow couldn’t see was what lay behind it. She couldn’t see it, couldn’t grasp it, couldn’t understand it, it was somehow hidden from her eyes, what this figure was really about.
To the one who looks on Jesus ion the cross there is no terror or fear. There is no need to shield your eyes from what you are seeing. In the figure on the cross there is peace that has come on earth, in the figure on the cross there are words for us all - come all you who are burdened and I will give you rest.