This year there are two images of Jesus' crucifixion that resonate with me the most. The first being the one depicted above, Matthias Grünewald's Isenheim Altarpiece. My studies have been consumed with John the Baptist and his preaching, which obviously means dealing with material related to the study of the historical Jesus and/or early Christian gospels. Wisely, the early Jesus movement argued that Jesus had received John's endorsement. Whether this can be verified historically or not is secondary. The argument stuck. Now we know of John mostly because people came to see him as the forerunner to the messiah. Grünewald's altarpiece is unique in placing John the Baptist at the crucifixion along with the beloved disciple (traditionally John son of Zebedee) and Jesus' mother Mary. The symbolism is rich in the Johannine Baptist's announcement that Jesus is the "lamb of God" is being depicted. John points toward the moment of the lamb's sacrifice. What did John see in Jesus, if anything? We only have what the gospels want us to have and the Gospel of John wants us to have the Baptist declaring the arrival of the messiah, a messiah whose death takes away the sins of the world. But how? Why?
The second is the Alexamenos graffiti found in Rome. It has been interpreted to be a mockery of Christians. The inscription in Greek reads Αλεξαμενος ϲεβετε θεον. This is an attempt to write, "Alexamenos worships (or, worshipping) [his] god." It appears to be an ass on a cross. As far as I'm aware most still date this inscription to the second century CE. It is easiest to understand as mockery. Obviously, on one hand, I find it a bit offensive. On the other hand, I find that it may be the most honest commentary on the shame and embarrassment of death by crucifixion. We Christians are used to trying to make apologetic sense of worshipping a crucified, first century, male Jew, but it is absurdity, and it isn't respectable, nor logical. If Christianity has anything to say it must remain paradoxical and not sanitized. It must remain messy. Sure, there is resurrection in the kerygma, but it followed a nasty execution. The gospel doesn't speak of a man who died of old age who then resurrected. It speaks of a man who died on a Roman cross. Whatever the gospel means it means something both troubling and profound but not easily explained.
Picture 1 source: https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/renaissance-reformation/northern-renaissance1/england-france-tyrol/a/grnewald-isenheim-altarpiece
Picture 2 source: http://emmock.com/2014/07/29/bible-blog-1384/