Monday, April 25, 2011

Contemplating the reality of Crucifixion

For a time, we have been bombarded with the essence of the Easter holiday…. Our senses are assaulted with the cliché’s of flowers, bright colors, Easter eggs, new suits, hats, and that pesky rabbit known as the Easter Bunny…..

In popular culture, The cross is an image that has been romanticized and celebrated….. some churches have Jesus hanging on the cross above the pulpit and the image is a part of the ceremony of church. Folk wear Jesus on the cross as a piece of jewelry. Some for spiritual reasons and others for fashion. In popular hip hop culture, the “Jesus piece” is a prominent piece of gold that denotes status and hood credibility…. Even as we live in a world where a tattoo is a normal fashion statement, Jesus on the cross is a popular piece of skin art….

For those of us who are seeking to be closer to God, we have been commemorating this time all week long…. We are contemplating the essence of this most holy season… We have been praying, fasting, meditating… we have been mindful of the central thesis of this season and that is, Jesus died for us….

Yes, Jesus died for us…. But what does that really mean to you?

The Crucifixion is a holy, important precept of Christianity…but what, my people does Jesus dying on the cross really mean??? Do we really understand in a literal sense what Jesus suffered in this time????

First what is crucifixion. In Jesus’ time, understand that Israel was occupied by the Roman Empire. It was a particularly gruesome time. The masses of the people were controlled thru sheer terror, by what would be the equivalent of unbridled police abuse. Insurrection is commonplace as the Jews sought  ways to overcome and overthrow the rule of the Roman Empire in their land.

Crucifixion was a humiliating, sadistic, gruesome, mindlessly violent form of capital punishment. It was a public execution that not only wrought tremendous pain and suffering on it’s victims, but the crucified bodies were usually left on the cross in a public view thus wreaking tremendous fear and terror in the hearts and minds of the oppressed people… the Jews…

Prior to the events of the crucifixion, I think we can agree that Jesus was in great physical condition. For the three years of his ministry he traveled all over the holy land.. mountains, hills, towns, cities… he did not ride a horse, they did not have cars, trains, planes, subways, MTA… etc… he walked!!! For miles!!!! There are some who estimate Jesus walked 20 miles or more daily…. I don’t know how accurate that is but the fact of the matter is that Jesus walked to and fro, up and down, over here, over there. Jesus even walked on water!!!! I believe we can all ascertain that Jesus was in excellent shape.

But at the Garden of Gethsemane, we see a stressed out Jesus…. He knew he was about to die…. He knew of the impending torture and subsequent excruciating death he would endure on the cross…. And so he prayed… but his friends, his homies, his companions slept… they would not even stay awake and have Jesus back. Jesus closest friends have abandoned him.

Nonetheless Jesus prayed….. The Bible says in Luke 22:44 that he prayed earnestly so that sweat fell as drops of blood…. The physical trauma of Christ begins in Gethsemane with one of the initial aspects of His suffering - the bloody sweat. Though very rare, the phenomenon of hemathidrosis, or bloody sweat, is well documented. Under great emotional stress, tiny capillaries in the sweat glands can break, thus mixing blood with sweat. This process alone could have produced marked weakness and possible shock. 

After the arrest in the middle of the night, Jesus was brought before the Sanhedrin and Caiaphas, the High Priest. A soldier struck Jesus across the face for remaining silent when questioned by Caiaphas. The palace guards then blindfolded Him and mockingly taunted Him to identify them as they each passed by; they spat on Him and smacked him around even more…..
Condemned to Crucifixion
In the early morning, Jesus, battered and bruised, dehydrated, and exhausted from a sleepless night, was taken across Jerusalem to the Praetorium of the Fortress Antonia. Pilate declares he can find no fault in Jesus and sends him across town to Herod. Herod was happy because he hoped that Jesus could entertain him and perform some miracles… He was not interested in hurting our Lord…. He wanted a show…. But when Jesus did not oblige, Herod and his soldiers ridiculed Jesus and dressed him in apparel fit for a king and sent him back across town to Pilate. It was there, in response to the cries of the mob, that Pilate ordered the murdering insurrectionist Bar-Abbas released and condemned Jesus to scourging and crucifixion.
 For the scourging, Jesus is stripped of His clothing and His hands tied to a post above His head. Two Roman legionnaires steps forward with the flagrum in his hand. The flagrum is a short whip consisting of several heavy, leather thongs with two small balls of lead attached to the ends of each. Braided into the leather thongs are sheep's bones broken to form a razor sharp claws that dig into the skin with each blow….

The heavy whip is brought down with full force again and again across Jesus’ shoulders, back and legs.
At first the heavy thongs cut through the skin only. Then, as the blows continue, they cut deeper into subcutaneous tissues, producing first an oozing of blood from the capillaries and veins of the skin, and finally spurting arterial bleeding from vessels in the underlying muscles. The small balls of lead first produce large, deep bruises which are broken open by subsequent blows.

Finally the skin of the back is hanging in long ribbons and the entire area is an unrecognizable mass of torn, bleeding tissue. When it is determined by the centurion in charge that the prisoner is near death, the beating is stopped. It should be noted here that Jewish law allowed for thirty nine lashes, but the Romans had no such precept.

Nearly rendered unconscious by the flogging,  Jesus is then untied and allowed to slump to the stone pavement, wet with His own blood. The Roman soldiers have a good laugh seeing this Jew who has claimed to be a king squalored in his own blood. They throw a robe across His shoulders and place a stick in His hand for a sceptre. A small bundle of flexible branches covered with long thorns is pressed into His scalp. More bleeding.

After mocking Him and striking Him across the face, the soldiers take the stick from His hand and strike Him across the head, driving the thorns deeper into His scalp. Finally, they tire of their sadistic game and the robe is torn from his back. The robe is already sticking to the blood and pus in the wounds… so its removal is just like when you carelessly remove a surgical bandage….
The walk to crucifixion
The heavy beam of the cross is then tied across His shoulders, and the procession of the condemned Christ, two thieves and the execution detail, begins its slow journey – roughly 650 yards… The weight of the heavy wooden beam, estimated to be 100 to 135 pounds, together with the shock produced by tremendous blood loss, is too much. He stumbles and falls. The rough wood of the beam gouges into the lacerated skin and muscles of the shoulders. He tries to rise, but human muscles have been pushed beyond their endurance. They seize Simon the Cyrenian to carry the cross the rest of the way…..
The nails of crucifixion
At Golgotha, the beam is placed on the ground and Jesus is quickly thrown backward with His shoulders against the wood. The legionnaire feels for the depression at the front of the wrist. He drives a heavy, square, wrought-iron nail (7” long and 3/8” wide) through the wrist and deep into the wood. Quickly, he moves to the other side and repeats the action, being careful not to pull the arms too tightly, but to allow some flex and movement. The beam is then lifted in place at the top of the posts and the sign reading “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” is nailed in place.

The left foot is pressed backward against the right foot, and with both feet extended, toes down, a nail is driven through the arch of each. As he pushes Himself upward to avoid the stretching torment, He places His full weight on the nail through His feet. Again there is the searing agony of the nail through His feet. the agony of the nail tearing through the nerves between the metatarsal bones through the feet.It should be noted here that the only archaeological evidence of any crucifixion shows that the nails were sometimes driven through the ankles. Feet are feet and the pain should be equal....

"Father, Forgive Them for they Know Not What they do"

By now, Jesus’ arms are fatigued, cramps are sweeping through the muscles, producing tremendous pain… With these cramps comes the inability to push Himself upward. Hanging by His arms, the pectoral muscles are unable to act. He can inhale, but cannot exhale. Jesus fights to raise Himself in order to get even one short breath. Finally, carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and in the blood stream and the cramps partially subside. Spasmodically, He is able to push Himself upward to exhale and bring in the life-giving oxygen. I can see Jesus as he hears the other condemned gasping for breath…. I can imagine what it sounds like…. Three men fighting to take a breath while in unimaginable pain….. I wonder how they could even muster up a conversation…. But they do….

39 Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us." 40 The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, "Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? 41 And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal." 42 Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." 43 He replied to him, "Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." Matthew 23: 39 - 43
Hours of this limitless pain, cycles of twisting, joint-rending cramps, intermittent partial asphyxiation, searing pain as tissue is torn from His lacerated back as He moves up and down against the rough timber…. Agony. Jesus looks over and see his mother… concern….

26 When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! 27 Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home. John 19:26-27
Then another agony begins. A deep crushing pain deep in the chest as the pericardium slowly fills with serum and begins to compress the heart.

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27: 46
Jesus’ compressed heart is struggling to pump heavy, thick, sluggish blood into the tissues – his lungs are tortured,  making a frantic effort to gasp in small gulps of air. His seriously dehydrated tissues send their flood of stimuli to his brain.

Jesus gasps, “I thirst.”

After this Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfil the scripture), "I thirst." John 19:28
Crucifixion - the last gasp
Jesus can now feel that shadow of death creeping into his body... The end is nigh…..

When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar He said, 'It is Finished' and He bowed His head and gave up the ghost. John 19:30

It is now almost over. The loss of tissue fluids have reached critical levels. The compressed heart is struggling to pump heavy, thick sluggish blood into the tissues. His frantic efforts to breath are more and more futile… The body of Jesus is more than near death. Finally he can allow his body to die…. With one last surge of strength, He once again presses His torn feet against the nail, straightens His legs, takes a deeper breath, and utters His seventh and last cry,

And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost. Luke 23:46
I pray that you have seen and visualized the true suffering of Jesus Christ Our Lord… I pray that you will reconsider, re-evaluate, or renew your consciousness regarding the sacrifice of God’s only begotten Son. The grace… the mercy… the price paid for us… all of us…. It is true… it is sincere … it is deserving more than romantic imaginings… it is the nucleus of who we are as Christians…. Jesus died for us….

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