The Gospel for this Sunday contains the first of three predictions of his passion by Jesus to his disciples.
“He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days” (Mark 8:31). His suffering, death and resurrection are at the core of our faith. We call this the “Paschal Mystery.” Not only do we believe that Jesus arose from death, but also that all our sufferings, losses and deaths are caught up in his death and resurrection. Our losses and even death will never have the last word — God will always bring new life out of them.
In each sanctuary, a reminder of this belief is placed — a crucifix, which should be visible to the people gathered in the church. It may be on or near the altar, suspended over the altar or placed on a wall in the sanctuary. Many churches have hanging in their sanctuary a plain cross or a cross with the risen Christ or Christ the King. For these churches a processional cross, which holds the crucified Christ, should be placed in a prominent place during the Mass.
The crucifix reminds us of the Paschal Mystery. The image of the crucified Christ puts in a tangible, visible way our belief that “suffering when united with the passion and death of Christ leads to redemption” (Built of Living Stones by the American Bishops).
Often during our prayer before Mass or at other times our eyes will focus on the crucifix. If we are in a time of crisis or sorrow it helps us remember that Christ too suffered greatly and shares our sorrow. It can help us remember the price Jesus paid for our salvation and his sacrifice which is re-presented in the celebration. It can comfort us too, because we know that through his sacrifice Christ defeated death.
In this Gospel Jesus also tells his disciples, “If a man wishes to come after me, he must deny his very self, take up his cross and follow in my steps” (Mark 8:34). No one escapes suffering in this life, whether or not he or she is a believer. As followers of Christ we take up our sufferings, our sorrows and losses, embrace them and keep our eyes on the one who has gone before us from death to life. We may not be able to see the end of our difficulties but we know that God will not desert us and that we can come through it all. The crucifix reminds us of that.
Johnston is the former director of worship at St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Manitowoc.