Last Tuesday, I got the privilege to share a message in the TCIS High School chapel service. My message was to cover the third part of a three message series on Jesus. My assignment was to talk about the cross of Jesus Christ. As I was preparing for my message, a friend of mine, David Suhs, shared with me a story about a carving that he had in his office. The carving was of a Korean Jigae (Jee-gay) Crucifix. I found the carving and the story behind it so fascinating that I did a bit of research and used the carving and its inherent message as the focus of my chapel talk.
Primary to the symbolic message of the Korean Jigae Crucifix is an understanding of the concept and purpose of the Korean Jigae. A jigae is a carrying tool used by a Korean laborer. It is an “A-frame” rack that is designed out of wood and ropes and it is worn on a person’s back like a backpack. At times it is fitted with a large fanned-out basket that is used to carry very heavy and bulky loads such as bricks, firewood, bags of seed and at times even an elderly or crippled person. One of the Korean staff members here at the school had an old jigae that had been passed on through the generations in his family and he brought it to school for me to display during my chapel talk. The picture shows David Suhs wearing the jigae rack.
In the jigae crucifix wood carving, the artist, Lee, Young Jong, takes concepts from within the Korean culture and uses them to interpret the message and idea of Jesus Christ on the cross. Primary to the carving and its symbolic message, the artist depicts Jesus Christ being crucified on an over-sized jigae. This element of the wood carving illustrates the idea that Jesus on the cross took all of the sins and “burdens” of the world upon His back—upon Himself. The very presence of the jigae also communicates the idea that Jesus represents and reaches out to even the most common person. The jigae is equated with the poor, working class of Korean society.
The clothing of the Jesus figure on the jigae crucifix seemingly holds multiple layers of meaning. It is unclear whether the clothing on the figure is representative of the traditional Korean Hanbok or if it is representative of the Korean social class of the Yangban. Perhaps, it is representative of both. The Hanbok is the traditional Korean dress composed of formal and semi-formal wear that is worn during traditional festivals and celebrations. The presence of the Hanbok is representative of all Korean people.
It is possible that the clothing on the Jesus figure is representative of that of the Yangban, who were the well educated, scholarly class of Korean society. They served as officials, educators and teachers within the Korean community. In the scriptures, Jesus was known and referred to as a teacher or rabbi. Within this context, the idea that the Jesus figure is dressed in the tradition of a Yangban is plausible.
On the head of the Jesus figure on the jigae crucifix the artist has placed a very powerful and noteworthy symbol of Korean Culture. The Jesus figure is wearing the crown of the traditional Korean emperor upon his head. Within this image, the artist, Lee, Young Jong, is stating that the one that is hanging upon the jigae cross is the emperor of emperors—the ultimate representative of Korean rule and royalty. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who hung on the cross and took the sins of the world upon himself, is the King of Kings and Emperor of Emperors.
I love the symbolic message of the jigae crucifix. In fact, I purchased a jigae crucifix wood carving and have it sitting on a shelf in my office in South Korea. Along with the jigae crucifix, I have a small wooden cross displayed in my office. For me, the small wooden cross completes the wonderful story of the jigae crucifix. The small wooden cross in my office stands empty—the Jesus figure is gone. Not only did the emperor of emperors die upon the cross and take the sins of every man and woman upon himself, but he also rose again from the grave on the third day. As the angel said, “He is not here, He is risen!”
The emperor of emperors lives again, offering all who would believe in him the promise of eternal life. In the jigae cross, I see life for all cultures in the midst of death. In the empty wooden cross I see hope for all people in the midst of hopelessness. As I gaze upon both crosses, I see the love of God for me and for the entire world.