In 2016 I wrote a reflection on the Resurrection as a revelation of the Glory of God in ways that our human minds cannot fully grasp. I did this after I had viewed many images of the crucifixion from the work of the great European painters of the Renaissance era. Christ has been pictured on the cross as a suffering servant. He has been depicted with the great compassion that He has for all mankind. He has been represented in victory over sin and the grave.
On a recent visit to Liverpool, England, I came across another representation of Christ on the cross. This time, not of painted artwork, but of wood sculpture. The Outraged Christ is a work by Charles Lutyens that presently stands in one of the transepts of Liverpool Cathedral. It is made from slats of wood, dowelled and glued together, and then sculpted using a large chisel and a chain saw. At fifteen feet high, it is a much larger crucifix than we are used to seeing in churches. Looking up at it, it dominates far more than the actual crucifixion would have done.
Over thirty years in the creation, The Outraged Christ began as a head alone. Lutyens laid this spontaneous work aside for many years while he contemplated what it might become. With the intent of having an encounter with this ‘Man’ and with the reality of the event taking place, the sculpture was driven by such questions as “Who was this Man?”, “What did He look like?” and “Why was this crucifixion remembered for 2,000 years over and above the countless other crucifixions that have taken place?” [i] Lutyens found himself thinking: “If the resurrection happened, then was it not already inherent in the crucifixion?” Thus, The Outraged Christ looks as if he is about to leap from the cross. As I looked at the right foot, nailed far up the cross with knee raised and bent, I contemplated a Christ who looked ready to spring forward and destroy His enemies. Meanwhile the other foot, stretched out at the length of the leg, with toes flexed outward, looked as though it were cramping in great pain.
In an article in the Church Times, Lord Harries wrote: The first Christians liked to show Christ victorious on the cross. The medieval period focused on his suffering for the sins of the world. The 20th century, too, emphasised almost exclusively the suffering of Christ — but, more often than not, as a suffering of a terrible century. The depiction of an outraged Christ is, so far as I know, a fresh addition to Christian iconography.[ii]
A panel beside the statue includes the words: Being who He was and having been outraged in the temple, how could he not be outraged at the appalling treatment of human to human, as He was experiencing it.
Our commemoration of the crucifixion often emphasizes the humility of Christ. We are told: he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth[iii] and: being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross![iv]. Our presentation of the gospel often emphasizes the sacrifice for sin, with victory over sin and death inherent in Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. We preach: And by (God’s) will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all [v] and: The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ[vi]. We are reminded that: He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; The punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. [vii]
We are also reminded that in the compassion of Christ as he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it. [viii] The gospel writers were aware of the fulfilment of prophecy affirming that He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases[ix]. As He suffered the punishment for our sin, he also suffered with the sufferings of mankind. As much as His sacrifice was a payment for sin, it was also an identification with the consequence of sin.
Christ, whose righteous indignation drove the money changers from the temple, telling them they were making the house of prayer into a den of robbers, went willingly to the cross. The Christ who spoke woe unto the lawyers and the Pharisees, describing them as hypocrites and likening them to whitewashed tombs did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing[x] or, as the New American Standard, translates: emptied himself.
The Christ who went to the cross left everything behind. His few earthly possessions were taken from him, His friends abandoned him, and the adulation of the previous week’s crowd was only a memory. His parables, His teaching, His words of wisdom, even His prayers were left behind. As He cried out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” he also lost sight of all things being under His power, which he had declared so recently when He washed His disciples’ feet. These all had to be stripped away to fully assume all the sin of the world.
Christ made it clear that He came to do His Father’s will. He said to the Jewish leaders: the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing.[xi] In the garden, again, so recently, He declared to His Father, “not my will, but yours be done!”. The writer to the Hebrews, reflecting on a Psalm of David, ascribes his words to Christ: Here I am … I have come to do your will, my God.[xii] In doing the will of His father, and emptying himself to go to the cross, he could leave anger behind trusting in the knowledge, as Paul writes, that while, in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed … The wrath of God (The Father) is (also) being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of mankind[xiii]
Somewhere, maybe not in the man, whose broken body hung upon the cross, but in the powerful, prophetic and creative word that spoke stars and seas into being, remained an echo of the Psalmist’s expression: The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, “I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.” [xiv]
In this victory, the outrage and the indignation of Christ find their rightful place.
[i] Marianna Lutyens – http://www.lutyenstrust.org.uk/portfolio-item/charles-lutyenss-crucifixion-recently-installed-at-liverpools-anglican-cathedral/ (accessed March 26, 2018)
[ii] A New Way of Looking – The Rt. Revd. Lord Harries of Pentregarth – The Church Times – August 19, 2011
[iii] Isaiah 53:7
[iv] Philippians 2:8
[v] Hebrews 10:10
[vi] 1 Corinthians 15:56,57
[vii] Isaiah 53:5
[viii] Luke 9:41
[ix] Matthew 8:17 quoting Isaiah 52:4
[x] Philippians 2:6,7
[xi] John 5:19
[xii] Hebrews 10:7
[xiii] Romans 1:17,18
[xiv] Psalm 2:4-6
All quotes are from the New International Version of the Bible