Friday, March 21, 2008


On Good Friday, Christians around the world celebrate with solemnity the crucifixion and death of Jesus outside Jerusalem. Traditionally, the Pope washes the feet of his Cardinals, in a re-enactment of Christ's foot-washing of His disciples. Believers carry a cross down the Via Delarosa in Jerusalem and follow the path tradition holds that Jesus walked up to Calvary.

We were invited to attend a new church today, and I was relieved to see a simple wooden cross draped in purple, with a crown of thorns hung on it. I didn't expect to see such a display, considering the denomination of this church, but I was pleasantly surprised to find the familiar cross at the front.

It is so easy for us to forget the true torture that the cross represents. The Gospels give us the story of what Jesus experienced, but the words are so familiar that they can wash over us if we don't stop to consider what Jesus really suffered. Years ago I heard a Good Friday sermon that changed my life. It was the first time anyone had explained to me what crucifixion entailed.

Jesus was whipped with leather strips that held metal pieces in them - the better to rip flesh from the back of the prisoner being beaten. The "crown of thorns" was likely a woven circle of heavy barbed nettles, drawing blood from the scalp and cutting in to His head.

Crucifixion was invented by the Romans and remains the cruelest form of execution known to man. Being electrocuted is far more humane. To be nailed to a heavy cross through the hands and crossed feet was only the beginning. The cross was then lifted and pushed down into a pre-shoveled hole, with rocks and earth poured down and around it to hold it upright. The person's body weight then sank totally downward from the arms. Aside from the arms being pulled out of their sockets, the internal organs fell prey to gravity and began sinking inside the body; tissues ripping and tearing as the person being crucified took a long time to die.

The heart and lungs also sank, making it difficult to breathe and putting extreme pressure on the heart to keep pumping. Every sinew, ligament, tendon, and muscle that holds the body together were stretched to their limit; torn and ripped with excruciating pain. Eventually, most prisoners who were crucified died through a combination of dehydration, asphxiation, and their hearts literally bursting in their chests.

Scripture tells us that a man offered Jesus "wine to drink, mixed with gall". Tradition says that women of Jerusalem customarily furnished this pain-killing narcotic to prisoners who were being crucified. The anonymous man realized Jesus' suffering, and offered Him a way out while the mob mocked and jeered at Him. Jesus refused it because He knew that to fulfill the prophesies from Isaiah, He needed to be conscious until His death. (Matthew 27:34)

From the Gospels we also know that Jesus hung on the cross for three hours - from the "sixth hour", which was the Roman time of noon, until the "ninth hour", which was three in the afternoon. This was after twenty-four hours of torture and deprivation.

Whether or not you profess to be a Christian, here's a thought. No other religious leader or teacher has ever died such a horrific death, never mind willingly gone to His death to fulfill prophesy and demonstrate His ultimate commitment to His God. Not Buddha, Mohammed, or Confucious - all human men who began world-reaching religions.

As we spend Good Friday fasting, meditating, or worshiping in church, we acknowledge the human aspect of Jesus the man. On Easter Sunday, we will celebrate the divinity of Jesus - the mystery of Jesus the Son of God. But for today, let us remember His cruel death, the mortal fear of His disciples who expected to be nailed to the cross after Him, and the Romans and Jews who stood around the cross and watched Jesus cry out before He died. Those people witnessed the most momentous event in history.

If you've never explored Christianity, I highly recommend C.S. Lewis's book MERE CHRISTIANITY. C.S. Lewis was an Oxford scholar and teacher who was a life-long atheist. He became a Christian through a series of remarkable events, and is beloved as one of the foremost 20th century Christian scholars. His words in MERE CHRISTIANITY are far more eloquent than mine can ever be.

I wish everyone a blessed and holy Easter weekend - filled with thoughtfulness, awareness, and the love of friends and family. May God bless you this Easter.

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