During daily chapel on Holy Cross Day, Sept. 14, a new chapel crucifix was dedicated at The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) International Center (IC) chapel in St. Louis. During the same service, Felix Loc was installed as LCMS chief administrative officer.
Christ and Him crucified
The Rev. Paul McCain, former vice-president of publishing for Concordia Publishing House, who died in 2020, once wrote, “The history of Lutheranism demonstrates that the crucifix was a regular and routine feature of Lutheran worship and devotional life during Luther’s lifetime and during the period of Lutheran Orthodoxy. … A crucifix vividly brings to mind the Apostle Paul’s divinely inspired words, ‘We preach Christ and Him crucified’ (1 Cor. 1:23). …
“The ‘empty cross’ is not a symbol of Christ’s resurrection, as some say, for the fact is that the cross would have been empty regardless of whether or not Christ had risen from the grave. The point to be kept clear here is that both an ‘empty cross’ and a crucifix symbolize the same thing: the death of Christ our Lord for the salvation of the world.”
In May, a team of workmen used ropes and scaffolding to painstakingly hang the new crucifix.
The crucifix was a gift from Ilona Kuchta in memory of her husband, Dr. Thomas (Tom) W. Kuchta, who served as LCMS chief financial officer from 2001 to 2010. Made in Italy by Demetz Art Studio, the crucifix corpus measures 5 feet tall and is constructed of linden wood. It required six months to carve, prepare and ship across the Atlantic. After arriving in St. Louis, it was delivered to the Rev. Dr. William (Bill) Matzat, who custom made the cross and installed the corpus on it. Matzat, a retired LCMS pastor, runs Dovetail Creations, where he works with stained glass and wood.
Ilona Kuchta said that she did extensive research, comparing crucifixes made in Germany to those made in Italy, and settled with the Italian company Demetz because of the company’s “marvelous reputation” and use of linden wood.
“I wanted the crucifix to be hand carved because it would mean there would not be another one exactly like it,” she said. The wood — from linden trees in the Dolomite Mountains of northern Italy — is well-suited to carving because of its grain and texture, which lend it readily to fine detail. The corpus is stained rather than painted. “I wanted people to see Jesus, not the colors.”
Ilona said Tom would be “humbled and overwhelmed” to hear that she had donated the crucifix in his honor. “It was a labor of love, and I’m happy it’s been so well received. Tom was a wonderful husband. All who knew him knew of his generosity and his integrity. His ‘yes’ meant ‘yes,’ and his ‘no’ meant ‘no.’ But with all his success, nothing meant as much to him as helping the church fulfill its mission.”
Of the crucifix, Ilona said, “It’s a strange juxtaposition of the horrific and the beautiful. It’s horrific to see what our sin did to Jesus, but it’s beautiful to see what He did for us. Where would we be without His work on the cross?”
Former Synod Vice-President Rev. Dr. Daniel Preus preached for the dedication on 1 Corinthians 2:1–2: “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
During his sermon, Preus shared a story about a teaching trip he took to India. During the trip, he and his wife toured a Hindu temple. Invited to ring a bell near a statue, they refused because of the Hindu belief that the purpose of such ringing is to awaken the “god” within the statue so that it can receive worship.
“Today we dedicate a crucifix,” Preus said, “not … in order that we may pray to the ‘god’ within the crucifix” but because of what the crucifix proclaims: Christ crucified for the sins of the world.
Preus explained that the word “dedicate” comes from the Latin dedicare, which means “to proclaim.”
“The nature of that proclamation could not be clearer,” Preus continued. “It is from the cross that Jesus cried out, ‘It is finished.’ [All of history] looks to the same moment … and we know that, at that moment, all our enemies [were] vanquished … and we … received victory through Christ, our Savior.”
Speaking after the service, Matzat said that the experience of making this cross was different from any other, and “I have made many crosses.”
“When I came to attach the corpus to the cross,” Matzat said, “it was more than a Good Friday moment. I have had many of those … [but] this was different. I was participating in the crucifixion. I was attaching Christ to the cross. It stopped me in my tracks. It was my sins that put Him there. … It was my sin that caused Him to be forsaken by His father. …
“I wish God’s blessings to all of you as you gaze upon this cross, that you realize what we sang in the Te Deum: He who has overcome the sharpness of death has opened the kingdom of heaven to all of us.”
Tom Kuchta died in 2020 at the age of 78. As an IC employee, he regularly attended and spoke of the blessing of daily chapel. Before serving the LCMS, he had a distinguished career in finance, working for the Internal Revenue Service and Price Waterhouse. In Kuchta’s obituary, he is described by LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison as “a rock-ribbed Lutheran, straight as an arrow in matters of business and finance, [with] a heart of pure gold. I’m thankful to have learned much from him and to have called him a friend.”
Posted on Oct. 9, 2023/Updated Oct. 15, 2023