My Mother's Body
I don’t know about crucified, but by the end of my mother’s life, her body looked like it had been to hell and back.
Bruises trailed her arms and covered her chest. There were holes where ports entered, fluids flowing through her veins; there were tangles of tube carrying fluids away. Her forehead came to resemble her mother’s, a mirror image of my own. After her death, the funeral home did what it could, but my family agreed. It didn’t look like her. Of course, I noticed the lipstick first. “She would never have worn that shade,” I said to no one in particular. Death has some strange stings.
When I was in seminary, a professor of mine claimed that the Protestant emphasis on the resurrection made it lose sight of the spiritual power of the Crucified One. You can literally see this. Almost every Protestant church has empty crosses—just the cross itself, without any sign that Jesus’ broken body had hung there. Go to a Catholic church, and you see the very opposite. Plenty of crosses with Jesus’s body on full display, waiting for resurrection. My professor believed that we need both crosses. Death and suffering fully acknowledged in the crucifix, while the empty cross shouts that those never have the last word.
I ponder this because as a Protestant, my mom would have seen empty crosses all her life. And during her years of illness, that’s what she wanted. To be empty of her cross. I’m not sure she realized how much she had in common with Jesus. She knew what it was to suffer, to be betrayed by her body and to long for wholeness. In fact, by the end, she could have passed for the Crucified One. Anyone in that ICU unit could have done the same.
What of all these crosses? I believe they say we don’t have to seek suffering, or glorify it—or run from it, either. The Crucified One isn’t a symbol of our ultimate future—that’s the promise of the empty cross. The Crucified One is for us now—for those who want a pathway through suffering, a way to be with suffering, to accept it at some level. And perhaps even to dare to see God inside of it or through it or despite it.
When I look at a crucifix now, that’s what I see. A vision of God’s body, a mirror image of our own.