The Beauty of Christ Crucified

BY GENEVIEVE KOCOUREK

A variety of adjectives can be used to describe the sight of Jesus hanging on the Cross: gruesome, absurd, barbarous, shameful or beautiful. The last of these may seem a bit out of place, but considering the beauty of the crucifixion can lead to a deeper understanding of the imminent Easter Triduum.

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ reveals who God is and exemplifies His relationship with us. It shows Christ’s ultimate self-sacrificing love for the Father and for us in carrying out His mission of our redemption. Not only is Jesus Christ the eternal Son of the Father, but He is also near to us with a presence that continually is made manifest to us, especially in the Eucharist.

Fr. Steve Grunow of Word on Fire Ministries notes that Jesus accepted full entanglement into human existence. His crucifixion brought divine love to meet the darkness of sin and death. The act of the crucifixion showed the dark depths of human sinfulness, while Jesus’ response of self-emptying love showed the willingness of God to forgive in an unequal way.

The mystery of the Cross is a mystery of the grotesque and appalling, showing forth a deeper beauty. What is known as one of the Songs of the Suffering Servant that foreshadows Christ’s Passion in Isaiah 53, reads, “…[H]e had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, and as one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” It ends as follows: “[H]e poured out his soul to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”

This song prophesies and describes Christ’s Passion in striking detail. Looking at it with the eyes of Christian faith, from lives lived in the Resurrection, we can see the beauty of Jesus’ death, which is beautiful because it does not have the final word, for Christ or for us.

To see the glorious beauty in the crucifixion requires contemplation of the self-sacrificing love that appears to contradict all natural human inclinations. Fr. Hans Urs von Balthasar, an influential 20th century theologian, described beauty as splendor shining forth from within, transforming the beholder. Jesus hanging vulnerably and helplessly on the Cross for the sake of our salvation can transform us in hope that even the messiest, ugliest events of our lives can potentially, by the grace of God, be turned into glorious occasions of grace.

We need not be paralyzed by the fear of death because it does not have the same power over us as it would have before the crucifixion. We are instead able to live lives of courageous and selfless love. Because Christ brought divine love into sinful humanity, when we approach Christ even after any misdeed, we can believe that He looks on us from that Cross, saying, “This is my beloved son or daughter, in whom I am well pleased,” as the Father said of Jesus at His baptism.

Into the beautiful mystery of the Passion, death and Resurrection of Christ, many of us were baptized as infants. At Easter, we renew our baptism, which is our entry into the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church. The Church is the extension of Christ’s crucified and glorified Body, a thought that might call us to consider during the remaining days of Holy Week how we view the beauty of Christ’s crucifixion.

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