I remember when they put the plastic Jesus in the church down the street from our house. They had to open the roof of the sanctuary in order to get Him in and for years after, you could see the lighter cedar shingles contrasting against the dark gray cedar shingles, indicating where the surgery had been done.
I remember thinking, “A plastic Jesus?” For me, at that time, Jesus was marble. The blue veins of the stone coursed through his pale, white, immovable body. He was mounted on the wall over the alter, much the same as I would later see deer mounted in homes in Wisconsin. A prize. (And I would say that Wisconsiners would likely view their deer with the same amount of reverence – which party is wrong depends on whether or not you are from Wisconsin.) The Jesus I knew was frozen in a horrific pose, stretched out on a cross, perpetually dying.
Plastic bounces. It falls on ceramic tile floors and then it bounces. And it’s not really plastic in the sense of a coke bottle plastic. It’s Acrylic. But even so, the idea of a plastic Jesus seems to lack the humanity of a marble Jesus. When I finally saw the famed Plastic Jesus, He reached down to me from the ceiling in the center of the sanctuary where He was suspended, blessing me or clasping me, and looking through me with His plastic eyes.
I remember thinking that it was about the plastic Jesus versus the marble Jesus back then. And now, I believe, it’s not about plastic versus marble at all. Because Jesus was flesh and He was hope and He was real. He was not carved out of the vision of man, but out of God’s light and word. And since the time when Jesus walked this earth in flesh, I spent my time recreating Him out of natural and synthetic materials. I left him on the cross, continually crucified and hung him over my head, always reaching, but never touching.
And sometimes still, He is on that cross or suspended by invisible rope from a cathedral ceiling. Sometimes He is in a church down the street and not where I am. But He is not a trophy for this world to be stuffed and mounted on a wall. He didn’t leave his body behind because I was not meant to worship a corpse, I was meant to worship a real, living, eternal God. Even when I pretend that He is elsewhere, He is still here.