There was a body on the cross. This was the shocking revelation of a 12 year-old seeing a crucifix for the first time. I was not used to seeing Jesus there–or any body for that matter. The many crosses in my world were empty. But here, visiting a friend’s church, in a denomination different from my own, was a scene I had never fully considered.
In my own Protestant circles I remember hearing the rationale. Holy Week did not end with Jesus on the cross. Good Friday is not the end of the story. Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried. And on the third day, he rose again. The story ends in the victory of Easter. The cross is empty because Christ is risen.
In fact, it is true, and as Paul notes, essential, that Christians worship a risen Christ. “[For] if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14). Even walking through the events of Holy Week–the emotion of the Last Supper, the anguish in Gethsemane, the denials of the disciples, the interrogation of Pilate, and the lonely way to Golgotha–we are well aware that though the cross is coming, so is the empty tomb. The dark story of Good Friday will indeed be answered by the light of Easter morning.
And yet, there is scarcely a theologian I can imagine who would set aside the fathomless mystery of the crucifixion in the interest of a doctrine that “over-shadows” it. The resurrection follows the crucifixion; it does not erase it. Though the cross has indeed taken away the sting of sin and death, and Christ has truly borne our pain, and the burden of humanity is that we will follow him. Even Christ, who retained the scars of his own crucifixion, told his followers that they, too, would drink the cup from which he drank. The Christian, who considers himself “crucified with Christ,” will surely “take up his cross” and follow him. The good news is that Christ goes with us, even as he went before us, fully tasting humanity in a body like yours and mine.
Thus, far from being an act that undermines the victory of the resurrection, the remembrance of Jesus’s hour of suffering boldly unites us with Christ himself. For it was on the cross that Christ most intimately bound himself to humanity. It was “for this hour” that Christ himself declared that he came. Humanity is, in turn, united to him in his suffering and is near him in our own. Had there not been an actual body on the cross, such mysteries would not be substantive enough to reach us.
She’s got more. It’s good.