I have never put much stock in religious experiences, because faith cannot rest on them, as they come and go. However, in early April of 2019, my tears seemed to flood my prior way of thinking. In celebration of our 24th wedding anniversary, my wife and I jetted off to Phoenix, Arizona to visit the Grand Canyon. A friend of mine encouraged us to also travel to the Red Rocks in Sedona, Arizona.
As I drove the rental car through Sedona, we were in awe of the huge, orange and red majestic rock formations. Then, we noticed a chapel which jutted out of the rocks. A lot of people were walking to it. I asked my wife: “What’s the big deal with that chapel?” My wife said, “Let’s check it out.” We parked our car and made the hike up to the entrance of The Chapel of the Holy Cross. It does not operate as a Catholic Church, but is more of a tourist site, visited by three million people a year. It was built in 1956. It’s 250 feet tall.
As soon as I walked in, I felt an undefined reverence. I looked up and I was stunned by what I saw. I cried. There at the back of the chapel stands a 33-foot crucifix. The corpus of Jesus was created by bronze sculptor, James Muir, in April of 2018. He had to be persuaded to complete this masterpiece, because he is not a Catholic, but a devout Christian. Listen to father Kleczewski describe how he convinced Muir to do the work after almost two months of discussions:
“I said, ‘Look at the cross on my wall over there,” said Fr. Kleczewski, who has been a priest for 40 years and moved to Arizona when he was 15. “Is that a face of anguish or anger or horrible suffering? No, it’s a face of love. The reason we put the corpus on the cross is to remind us of this great act of love of both the father offering His Son and the Son offering himself for us. That’s what it’s all about.’ I saw the light bulb come on and he decided to do it. (catholicdigest.com, 10.22.18, Givens)
After standing there speechless, we eventually sat down on a wooden bench. Dozens of candles illuminated small red votives. It was an intimate setting. Since the chapel is small, with seating for just 40 people or so, you cannot look away from the 33-foot crucifix. It felt like I needed to reckon with Jesus. His eyes were open. It also felt like he was looking at me. More tears. I prayed silently.
Yeah, I know as Christians we don’t have crucifixes in our churches or our homes, because we believe Jesus is “off” the cross, resurrected and alive. But do we rush past remembering all that Christ endured before, and during his crucifixion? During this Easter season, why not reckon with Jesus, regarding all that he endured for you?
pictures courtesy of “Nelson & his Nikon”