The raw, heavy wood was pressing hard into His bleeding shoulders. The splinters were scratching mercilessly His raw skin, adding to His indescribable pain. It was intense. Physical. Heavy. Each move brought agony. Each push from the crowds accompanying Him along the narrow streets procession were bringing new shocks of pain. Active, merciless pain. His body seemed almost like a shadow without life, incapable of carrying the heavy wood of the cross.
The Master stopped. A sharp pain in His body. A sharp pain in His soul. Separation from the Father. Heavy, filthy, stinky sin, repulsive sin, millennial sin, from the oldest of time, from that moment in the Garden, to the end of time, in the future, to that glorious moment. Sin. Death.
He saw them there – His close friends who lost the courage of staying close to Him, those devoted women who followed Him so wholeheartedly, so loyally. The custom was that the dead person was carried along the wailing and mourning of the dear ones left behind. But the Master was carrying Himself towards death. The Timeless One, the One with no beginning, nor ending, God incarnate, One with the Father, becoming the Way towards the Father. For them. For us.
Their pain and agony was adding to His already unbearable pain. It was paining Him that they were hopeless, that they could not yet see through the eyes of faith that was happening there and then had already been planned and predicted. The vail on their eyes and hearts was paining Him. Oh, what sin does! Oh, the indescribable need for this Sacrifice! He took another step further, and another step… Yes, this Sacrifice was needed. It was necessary. And one more step…
The procession was not holy and dignifying. It was designed to bring more shame. More mockery. The sentence was death by crucifixion, demeaning, degrading, by vulnerable full exposure of the body. The prolongued torture, the painful effort of grasping one more breath of air, the death brought by the incapacity of breathing under the weight of the stripped body hanging on the wood. The fight between Life and Death. On display. In front of everyone. As if the pain and torture were not enough in themselves, this procession to the place of agony and death was adding to the public mockery and shaming, it was prolonging the anguish, the torment, the mysery. Of the body and of the soul.
When they took the heavy wood off of His shoulders, a blinding pain struck Him from head to toes. A nerve was touched during the torture that made every step or move so agonizing, so excruciating. The heavy cross was adding excessive pain, the absence of the cross was activating the pain in other areas. Pain did not want to take a break, to offer mercy.
They finally got out of the city. The holy city. He turned back towards her. He could barely see her through the veil of blood that was flooding his sight. The long thorns of the derisive and humiliating crown started a constant drain of blood. Jerusalem! With her same old bustle. How many times He had prayed for her! How many times He had cried for her! The busyness of the people who were minding their business as if this life was all that there was forever, continued as if nothing happened. As if nothing was about to happen. The commotion of the procession of three men condemned to the shameful death barely interrupted the daily rush of several curious spectators. “Oh, Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me; weep for yourselves and for your children.[…]For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”*
Then He looked forward. It was there, barely outside of the city, close to the city entrance gate – that’s where He will meet Death. That’s where He will let Himself be defeated by Death. That’s where He will experience the separation from the Father. There! The rock was rising before Him, as if it was defying Him. The heavy winds and rains sculpted a giant skull in the rock. He knew that place. It was called Golgotha, “the place of the skull”.** Before His birth into this world limited by space and time, He knew the place. The Place of the Sacrifice. The place where justice and love are both fulfilled. At the same time.
There were other people crucified there. Not on top of the hill, where the barbarian gentiles were bringing their pagan sacrifices. But under it. Along the road. He lifted His eyes and wished that they knew Who He was. That all those efforts of bringing sacrifices to man-made gods are worthless. What good it would do them if they only believed! If they saw His love for them, the perfect Love who gives Himself in spite of rejection and ignorance.
The procession stopped. It was Time! Time! He, the One-Beyond-Time, Creator of time and space, was going to let Himself be defeated by death, time and space, so that anyone from time and space who believes in Him, can experience eternity in a life as it was meant to be – in His perfect, kind and loving presence.
Lifting the cross in its hole, the nailing of the hands, lifting the Body, the thirst that was burning His throat, the mockery of the passers-by, who were clueless of what was really going on, the drawing of lots for His clothing – moments of what was unfolding there. In the seen world. The unseen world was witnessing something that has never been seen before. And that was never ever going to be seen again. The visible world had no idea that they were witnessing the most extraordinary event in the history of time and space. But the Universe was holding its breath. Everything was moving slowly. Historically. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”***
The temptation of proving Himself came like a rushing flood over the whole weight of the millennial sin. If they only knew! If they only saw that He was the Promise of God! Don’t they know that He is the worshipped one? Their Creator? That He chose to be there? That He is the Commander of all the hosts of angels who are there just to serve Him? The soldiers drew lots to get His clothing. The passers-by and spectators hungry for drama were laughing, having no idea how foolish they were being. This is what sin does, whether we realize it or not – it makes fools of us.
He lifted His eyes once more. Death was reigning everywhere. It really was reigning this time. Triumphant. Smirkingly.
“It is finished.”**** He said, then bowed His head and gave up His Spirit.
Death was victorious today. It is Friday. It is the time of Darkness.
Today’s reflection was inspired by the accounts of the four Gospels and our trip to Israel. One of the places that they presume it was the place of the crucifiction is by a rock that is still shaped like a skull, close to one of the gates into old Jerusalem. It was a moving experience to be there, to imagine the day of the crucifiction, to praise my Savior in that place. But one other thing that was moving was that just under that rock there is a bus station today. A busy, crowded bus station in such a holy place! It seemed like such an unfit place for such a mundane necessity. On that very profound and moving day for me, I understood the heart of God a little deeper. He is a genius planner! Scholars say that it is most probable that Jesus was crucified in the same place where they usually crucified their criminals, along the roads, not just for the shaming of the dying ones, but also to serve as a warning to those passing by. The beautiful image of the cross of Jesus rising high on top of a hill, between two smaller crosses, under a warming sunset seems to not correspond to the cruel reality. His death was ugly in all ways. And He chose it, out of love for you and me. It is impossible to ever understand what He did for us!
Do not rush today. Sit still and let your imagination be there. Read the Gospel texts that present the crucifiction. Read Jesus’ words on the cross. What did He say? Why did it matter for us to hear those words? We know that today is not the final day, that this is not the ending, but our souls need to stop here for a while. In the place of suffering and death. Because we were the cause of them. We would have been hopeless had we not received this sacrifice.
Reflect on what Jesus did for you on a day like today. Do you believe it? Do you receive it? His arms are open wide on the cross – as is His heart.
*Luke 23:28, 31