Crucifixes used to creep me out. I admit it. Probably because I grew up in a faith tradition that put a lot of emphasis on “He’s not on the cross anymore!” as a way of deliberately frowning upon any cross that had a representation of Christ on it. That’s wrong was very clear in the teaching.

So when we started attending a Catholic church, the crucifixes…yeah, let’s say I just averted my eyes. For a while. Until I began to understand why it was so important to remember that Christ suffered. So that it was always before us in our suffering. So that we didn’t have to say, “No, I’m fine. No, I’m not grieving. No, I’m not hurting. Of course I believe! The cross is empty!” and instead we can say, “Lord, unite my suffering to your own. Give it meaning, as yours had. Take it, redeem it, and in turn give it your redemptive power.”

When you enter into a Catholic church before Mass, there’s no babble of voices or laughter or gossip. There are people sitting or kneeling quietly, with their eyes affixed to the cross (there are plenty of “empty” ones too). To the crucifix (there’s always one in the front). “Contemplate the crucifix” was instruction my husband received for what to do in those silent minutes.

It was a challenge for me. But one that made some pretty profound truths settle in my soul. Truths that I’m now clinging to as my own body goes through its own journey of suffering. Cancer may not be the same cross Jesus suffered. But it’s a cross. And it’s suffering. And as I gaze upon that reminder of what He already went through for me, it’s how I know He’ll use this for His glory too.

Just think for a moment about these frail human bodies we occupy. We may tell ourselves that the real us, our souls, are not our bodies, and that’s how we live forever–spiritually, our souls in heaven. And that’s true…in part. But it’s not the whole truth, is it? We are each given a unique body, and it is not only ours, it is us, in a very real way. A very material way. We are not just spirit–we are spirit and body. We are a creation that God made to have both spirit and body.

When He sent Christ among us, it wasn’t just as spirit. This was actually one of the great heresies in the early church, with people claiming He wasn’t really flesh. He didn’t cast a shadow. He didn’t leave footprints. Because flesh, they said, was all evil. Spirit is all good. So a perfect Savior couldn’t have a physical body like we do.

But oh, how wrong that was. We know that Jesus went out of His way to let people touch Him. Feel Him.

God became man. He took on flesh, just like ours. Flesh that grew in His mother’s womb, cell by cell. Flesh that came forth from her body with the same fluids as any other baby. Flesh that grew, learned how to suckle, how to speak, how to crawl and walk and laugh and play. Flesh that needed food and drink. Flesh that bled when cut.

Flesh that He told us would be offered to us in bread. In wine. Flesh that became bread. Became wine, so that we could share in it through the ages.

Flesh that He let be bruised, beaten, battered for us. Flesh that was torn by a whip. Flesh that had nails put through it. Flesh that suffocated on the cross. Flesh that collapsed in agony.

He felt that. Every strike of the whip. Every poke of the thorn. Every hammer of the nail. He felt it. He chose to feel it. He refused the drugged wine that would have dulled his senses. That bodily part mattered. It was through His precious body that mankind was freed from our sin. He didn’t make a symbolic, spiritual sacrifice. He made a complete one–body, soul, mind, spirit.

Just think about it. Jesus chose to fully feel that pain for you, in every cell of His body. In the same body He offered in the bread hours before.

The same body that grew in His mother. The same body that reached out and healed blind men with a touch, gave voice to the mute, restored a paralytic. The same body that walked across water, that spoke the words to calm a storm or return life to a dead man.

That’s the body He gave to us in Holy Communion. The one that hung on the cross. The one that died. The one that was buried in a tomb. The one that lay there, dead, over the Sabbath.

Do you want to know how much Jesus valued that body? Enough that He came back for it. Enough that He raised that same body up again–still with the holes in His hands, His feet, His side. Still able to be touched, to be fed, to be clung to. (Ever wonder where all He went between the resurrection and ascension? He only appeared a handful of times to the disciples. What else was He doing in His resurrected body? Where did He go? Who did He talk to?) That body meant so much to Him that He took it with Him into heaven.

So much that He shares it with us still, even today. Every time we partake of His Flesh, of His Blood. He’s still there in heaven, in His body, and that resurrected body is still present with us on earth every time we share in Holy Communion.

That means that His powerful, death-defying, resurrected body is in me. Just a little bit, when I take that wafer. 

You know what that means? That my body matters too. This is the one God gave to me, with all its quirks. For whatever reason, He created us to have minds that think, hearts that feel, souls that chase after Him, and bodies in which He can live. Paul doesn’t tell us we are temples just as encouragement to eat healthy food and exercise. He tells us we are temples because God lives inside us when we open the door for Him, when we share in that blessed sacrament, when we unite ourselves to Him.

But not just to His glory. To His suffering too. We can’t forget that. It’s as crucial a part of the faith as the resurrection. He had to suffer. He had to die. He had to rise again. It all matters.

In my time of suffering, I can look at His and know it matters. I can look at His and know it’s already been redeemed. I can look at His and be reminded that that same body is both in heaven and poured out for me. For my healing. For my strength. But also just to hold my hand through the bad parts. I don’t have to deny them. I don’t have to be stoic. I don’t have to pretend everything’s okay.

I can say, “Even when it isn’t. Even when it hurts. Even when things go wrong. Even when our bodies fail. Even when we’re sick. Even then…even then, He is God. Even then, He knows. Even then, He holds our hand with His own, nail-pierced one. Even then, He is with us. Even then, He says, ‘It matters. I know. And together, we are going to do great things. Even now, when you are so weak. I AM strong.”

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