In many parishes, particularly around Eastertide, you will find an interesting piece of statuary. In a prominent place, often where a crucifix is normally found, you will see a resurrected Jesus attached to a cross. These ‘resurrectifixes’ are explained as reminding us that the cross is not the end.
On the one hand, this is true. On the other hand, it is stupid. The most immediate concern is that Jesus did not rise from a cross (the worst offenders are those statues with Christ half crucified, half pulling himself from the cross. This is little more than a total violation of “He who saves his life shall lose it”). We lose the entire burial and Holy Saturday is suddenly missing.
The connection between the death of Christ and his resurrection is so close that a resurrectifix does not seem so odd. Yet it should be no less (or more) absurd than a cross with a manger on it (or even baby Jesus); let us call it a nativifix.
The madness of this readily apparent, yet the birth of Christ is as fundamental to the crucifixion as the crucifixion is to the resurrection. The Christian tradition has long kept these elements in parallel; the temporal proximity of the crucifixion and resurrection have simply given them a leg up, as it were.
While putting the infant saviour on the cross is absurd, do we not do something just as strange on Christmas day? We come together to celebrate the birth of Christ in the Mass, yet the Mass proclaims “the day before he was to suffer.” We have jumped, suddenly (and recklessly?) forward thirty years.
This is not as discordant as it seems, for let us remember that all the Christian mysteries are one mystery (while remaining separate). The Fathers did not think you could speak about the Nativity without equally speaking about the Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension. This is particularly apparent in the liturgy. The mystery of the Sacrifice of the Mass is not simply that of Christ’s death, but of his birth, resurrection, and ascension as well. To bring the reality of the death into the celebration of Christ’s birth is the only way to save it from becoming a saccharin falsity.
A little over a year ago my second nephew was born. My grandfather was in the same hospital, in ICU, only a few weeks from his death. Today’s culture would like to keep these things as far from each other as possible, but that fact is birth ends in death. Both are a necessary part of being human in this world.
As the hymn goes, Christ was “born that man no more may die,” which was accomplished in his death and resurrection. We remember the cross as part of this one great mystery, that Christ’s humanity follows the same path as ours. Yet from this death our humanity is transformed so that death may die. This birth is the beginning of the end of death.