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ONE MAN

Lenten Reflections

by M. Dorothy Walsh

Part I: Introduction

"Look intently at a crucifix until it becomes unfamiliar" – words taken from a spiritual book, title and author of which are long forgotten by this writer. However the phrase remains in mind. At first glance, the suggestion or mandate – however you wish to accept it – seems strange. Just what does the spiritual writer have in mind? To Christians, a crucifix is not novel. All Catholic churches are mandated to have a crucifix as part of the ordinary furnishings. Not a cross but a crucifix which is the cross with the image of Christ crucified on it. Not the resurrected Lord but the dying Christ. It may be that some non-Catholic Christian denominations also use a crucifix as part of their fixtures. In any case, at least for those of us who grow up with a crucifix as part of our religious experience, it becomes familiar. All too familiar. We cease to take much notice. One might say, we become "comfortable" with the image. What we are exposed to, even in a life size scene of the event is, so to speak, beautiful. We see the nails in hands and feet, a few drops of red "blood" staining them. The statue of the body clings to the wood of the cross usually in perfect symmetry.

The painted dark hair lies neatly on the shoulders, the thorn crown rests on the head. Often touches of gold outline the one garment clothing the figure. The face is unmarked. If the depiction is of the dead Christ, there is a small, slit-like wound showing on His side with a few more droplets of red paint beneath. If we are viewing Christ still alive, that wound is not to be seen for it was inflicted upon his death. Usually the image is pale, it almost gleams. The painted finish retains its cleanliness. The body of Christ gives a quiet, peaceful appearance. And we come to accept that at which we look as very familiar. I dare say we probably give little thought to what this statuary has to do with us personally. As time goes by, we think even less of what it's all about.

Lent is a time to change that!

One Man is a series of Lenten reflections which will attempt to contrast the difference between the "beautiful" crucifixes with which we are familiar and the real event as it happened. The title One Man comes from a homily given by the Rev. Patrick Albert, the pastor of the Roman Catholic Community of Forest City, during Lent 2000. Fr. Albert explained in that sermon that Christ, one individual Man, had taken on His shoulders the sins of the world and had gone "all the way" as Father put it. We will attempt to prayerfully comprehend what going “all that way” meant to this One Man.

The material for this series has been culled from various sources and combined as one in the interest of clarity and brevity. These sources are: the last chapters of the Gospels of Sts. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; A Doctor at Calvary, Pierre Barbet, M.D.; Life of Christ, Bishop Fulton Sheen; The City of God, Venerable Mary of Agreda; The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Anne Catherine Emmerich; and How Jesus Died – The Last 18 Hours, a forensic investigation on video narrated by Dr. Ramsey Macmullen, Roman Historian emeritus Yale, Dr. James Strange, Biblical Archeologist, Dr. Frederick Zugibe, Chief Medical Examiner of Rockland Co., N. Y. and Dr. John Bonica, M.D., Internal Pain specialist.

With the aid of the above cited authorities in their respective fields of theology, medical science, religious studies, history and archeology, we will get some understanding of the price paid for the redemption of mankind by this One Man.


Part II: His Coming

Jesus of Nazareth was born 2000 years ago in Bethlehem of Judea on a date we now know as Christmas. We celebrate it with joy and great enthusiasm. There is a sense of romance and mystery as we contemplate that night with a multitude of bright stars to illuminate the black velvet sky - with choirs of angels to sing of the coming of the newborn King. We see the shepherds leave the fields hurrying to the birthplace. Sent in haste by the angelic heralders, they come to see this precious Babe. We look to the east and at a distance can make out a royal caravan winding its way slowly but surely to this little town of Bethlehem which was promised the honor of holding this Child in its history (Mi 5:2). The three Kings, who lead the retinue of camels and servants, continually consult together as they motion toward the sky where the appearance of a great and brilliant new celestial body has called them forth each from his own native land in search of this royal Infant. The star has led them from great distances and hovers now over the place where the Child is. Their arduous trek will soon be over, their journey completed, their efforts rewarded as they behold the Object of their quest (Matt 2:11).

A beautiful teenage Jewish maiden holds her newborn Baby close to her breast. She smiles as she looks down on Him asleep in her arms. Her profound humility causes her to blush as she remembers that day nine months before when an Angel came to tell her that she, Mary of Nazareth, had been chosen to be the Mother of the Messiah. She, who was and would always remain a virgin, would conceive a Son through the power of the Holy Spirit (Lk 1:26-35). He would be "called holy, the Son of God" (Lk 1:35). Mary was to "call His name Jesus" (Lk 1:31), which means Savior "for He will save His people from their sins" (Matt 1:21).

Joseph, Mary's husband, stands in awe nearby, ready to anticipate any need of his young wife and her Child. God has placed him here as their protector and provider.

What a lovely scene is portrayed to us. Our hearts throb from the sheer beauty and charm of this picture. And we watch those shepherds come and the three Kings from lands so far distant. We see Mary present the Divine Infant to them. Our eyes behold that greatest star in the galaxy of that greatest night; we hear the orchestra of heavenly melody. We thrill at the splendor of Divinity coming to earth Incarnate.

But wait. The "manger scene" tells only part of the story. What of the other side of the coin?

The prophet Micah has foretold that the Messiah is to be born in Bethlehem. Therefore Divine Providence ordains that Augustus Caesar will issue a decree for a census to be taken when the time for Mary's Child to be born draws near. Joseph's origins are in Bethlehem – he and Mary must travel there. Obviously, this will be difficult for the expectant mother. Aside from the evident travail of such a journey just now by foot and donkey, they sadly realize that most of the soft baby clothes Mary has made with such love and care will have to be left behind. The handmade cradle, carved to be fit for the newborn King by His foster father, Joseph, will also not be taken. But, never mind, they console each other thinking they will return to Nazareth in short order and the precious baby things will then be put to use. They have no idea that they will not be returning to their own town but rather will flee to another country to save the life of the Child. As they depart their little house in Nazareth, they have no suspicion that Bethlehem will be but a first stop on a long journey to a strange land with a strange culture where they will settle without family, friends or livelihood. Egypt!

The delights of the Christmas scene are overcoming the shadow of death which hovers over the manger this night. As all new mothers do, Mary holds her newborn Son up to admire His tiny features; the lantern light casts a strange dark figure over the Infant Body. For just a second, Mary sees the outline of a cross take shape. The swaddling clothes in which He is wrapped become a shroud! This Child has come into the world to die, to give His life as a ransom for many. The Son of Mary, Who is also the Son of God, has taken human life only to sacrifice it. The Infant of Bethlehem will grow in wisdom and grace to become the One Man – human and divine – worthy of releasing mankind from the grip of Satan.


Part III: Watch and Pray

"Out of Egypt I have called My Son" (Hos 11:1).

The Babe of Bethlehem returns from Egypt upon the death of Herod the Great – the one who sought to kill the Child at His birth. The little family settles in Nazareth (Matt 2:19-23). At the age of twelve, we find Jesus in the Temple at Jerusalem "sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions and all who hear Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers" (Lk 2:46-47).

When Jesus is about thirty years of age He will begin His public ministry (Lk 3:23). He will gather twelve men about Him as close followers – although one will defect – and for three years He will teach, preach, cure the ill and disabled and feed multitudes miraculously. The four Gospels are filled with these accounts. He rebukes the wind and calms the sea (Matt 8:26). He raises the daughter of a public official from death (Mark 5:41-42) and the son of a widow (Lk 7:12-15). Shortly before His own death and resurrection, He will raise a friend, Lazarus, who had been dead four days (Jn 11:43-44). But never will He perform a miracle to benefit Himself. He came totally for others, "that they might have life and have it more abundantly" (Jn 10:10). He is always a loving Good Shepherd (Jn 10:14).

Jesus begins to speak of His coming death and resurrection sometime before the events unfold. Matt. 16:21; Mark 8:31; Lk 9:18; and Jn 10:17-18 all record His statements concerning His death. It is imperative to note that never does the Master mention the details of His earthly end without adding the fact of His Resurrection. Jesus obviously wishes to prepare His followers for what lies ahead and assure them that, when it happens, He is in control. He has willed it to be in the extreme for His own reasons. He will go "all the way" and not turn back. The redemption of mankind rests on His shoulders and the love of His heart fires His desire to accomplish the purpose of His coming as Man. He states "I have a baptism with which to be baptized and how I am constrained until it is accomplished" (Lk 12:50). At the appointed time, "He sets His face to go to Jerusalem" (Lk 9:51), knowing full well what His going there will mean. It is not only death which waits there for Him but a litany of betrayal, overwhelming pain, insults, ridicule, degrading humiliations and merciless torture. Can anyone appreciate His courage and the love in His heart to follow that road to that city?

Jesus enters Jerusalem in triumph on what we now know as Palm Sunday. Since the raising of Lazarus from the dead, His popularity with the people has reached its zenith. He spends the week, now called Holy, teaching and preaching. In the Temple precincts, He drives out the buyers and sellers of worldly goods declaring "My house is a house of prayer but you have made it a den of thieves" (Matt 21:13). He is being watched closely by the religious leaders who are jealous of the young Preacher’s rising fame. One of His own disciples hears of their intentions to put Him to death and becomes part of the plot to accomplish that.

"No one takes My life from Me; I lay it down of My own accord and I take it up again" (Jn 10:17-18). The time has come for that laying down.

On Thursday evening, Jesus, after sharing the Passover meal with His Apostles and leaving with them a new Commandment, "love one another as I have loved you" (Jn 15:13), gives them an everlasting miraculous memorial of Himself. He blesses and breaks bread and says "This is My Body" (Lk 22:19). He blesses a cup of wine and says "This is My Blood" (Matt 26:28). These close followers of His share the meal not at the moment comprehending the significance of His words or actions. Later they will understand. The supper finished, they rise from the table and go out into the night – Jesus, the Master, and eleven Apostles. There were twelve but one has defected; Judas Iscariot is no longer with them.

The Kidron brook gurgles its way through the olive grove which is called Gethsemane. The little band crosses it and enters the area beyond. The fragrance of the freshly plowed orchard permeates the still darkness. It is a peaceful place for prayer and rest. Jesus has come here often. This night however is different. The Master takes Peter, James and John apart from the others. Inviting them to watch and pray, He goes a stones throw beyond. He is obviously troubled – "My soul is sorrowful even unto death. Stay here and watch with me" (Matt 26:38), He tells His brethren, those who have become as brothers to Him.

The three men speak to each other concerning the obvious distress of their Leader as they settle down beneath one of the large, gnarled trees which have stood here keeping guard for centuries. Soon weariness overtakes them and sleep wins the battle over the attempt to remain alert.

Jesus, meanwhile, has made His way to His usual place of prayer in the garden – a large stone boulder. He kneels on the ground and rests against it. His distress has escalated into deep anxiety. Hands clasped, He looks heavenward. A few stars and a full silver moon are His only companions for His friends are wrapped in slumber. The Son of God and Son of Mary has begun the final chapter of His earthly life. He who bears the name Jesus, which means Savior, has reached the time of His mission’s fulfillment. This He knows – He has always known the day and the hour. He Himself has set it. He has determined the way and the means by which it will be accomplished – this sacrificial death by which He will set His people free.

Jesus, true God and true Man, will endure His sufferings through His humanity. He cannot suffer in His Godhead. Divinity will be, so to speak, submerged though never absent. In His humanity, He is anxious and fearful now. He sees the vision of His sufferings unfolded before Him, each and every one. His very manhood recoils from the shameful scenes. "His mental anguish was quite different from the sufferings of a mere man, because in addition to having human intelligence, He also had a Divine intelligence. Furthermore, He had a physical organism which was as perfect as any human organism could be; therefore it was much more sensitive to pain than our human nature, which has been calloused by crude emotions and evil experiences". [1]

The struggle within becomes so intense that a medical phenomenon occurs. His profuse sweat turns crimson. The blood vessels are dilating into the sweat glands and droplets of blood push their way to the surface of the skin. [2] His hair is damp from it, as is His clothing. The earth beneath His knees is colored by it. Droplets from His forehead slowly find their way down to His beard to be caught there.

Jesus sees not only the torments awaiting Him but He also knows that for many His suffering will be in vain. This adds to His profound sorrow. The words of Isaiah (53:3) must ring in His ears, "He was despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and as One from whom men hide their faces, He was despised and we esteemed Him not". The prophecy will be fulfilled on the morrow on the balcony of Pontius Pilate's palace. And in other times and other places down through later ages, the rejection will be repeated. Jesus is completely overwhelmed as He prays, "Father, if Thou will, remove this chalice from Me but not My will, Thine be done" (Lk 22:41). He rises to seek solace from His companions only to find them asleep. Disappointed, feeling forsaken, He returns to His supplications and twice more addresses His Father in the same manner as before. An angel comes to strengthen Him (Lk 22:43).

Jesus finally leaves His place of prayer. He is calm and sure now. The struggle over, He rouses the others as voices break the silence of the night. Lanterns held by Temple guards illuminate the garden. Leading the group is a familiar figure. It is Judas Iscariot. In his hands, he grasps a small money bag – it contains thirty pieces of silver (Matt 26:14-15). "So Jesus, knowing well what was to befall Him, went out to meet them" (Jn 18:4). Judas approaches the Master and kisses Him. This is the agreed upon signal identifying Jesus of Nazareth as the Man they will apprehend. The traitor's kiss must blister the cheek of the Lord as He sadly speaks, "Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?" (Lk 22:48). Then, as they seize Him and tightly bind His hands, adds addressing His captors, "this is your hour and the power of darkness" (Lk 22:53).

Jesus of Nazareth, abandoned now by His fear filled followers (Matt 26:56) is taken from the peaceful garden in chains like a common criminal. The dignified bearing of this One Man in the midst of the unruly crowd sets Jesus apart. He is their Prisoner, the hold they have on Him comes only with His assent however. From the shadows, we will watch and follow Him.

PART III: REFERENCES

1 - Life of Christ
2 - How Jesus Died – The Last 18 Hours
(Other Resources: The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Anne Catherine Emmerich)

Part IV: Ecce Homo

Dawn is breaking. It has been a long arduous night for Jesus. After His arrest in Gethsemane and His interrogation in the house of Caiphas, He has spent hours imprisoned in a dungeon in the lower regions of the building. Lowered down into this subterranean cell, set apart for the worst criminals, He has endured bone chilling dampness, indescribable stench and darkness. He has been forced to stand or else sit on the cold, filthy earthen floor. [3] The physical condition of Jesus has begun to deteriorate. Having had no food, water nor rest since the evening before and having lost blood through His agony in Gethsemane, Jesus feels a human physical weakness. [4] He has also suffered abuse from His captors (Matt 26:67).

With the coming of morning, guards are dispatched to bring Jesus up from the pit and take Him before the whole assembly of chief priests, scribes and elders. These men composed the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish court. The popularity of Jesus with the people has intimidated the Jewish leaders. They fear He will usurp their power when in fact Jesus has already rejected this political perception of Himself sometime before when, knowing the people "were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, Jesus withdrew to the hills by Himself" (Jn 6:15).

Jesus stands alone, One Man, before His accusers. He has already faced many of this hostile group hours before at which time He had declared that His teachings were given in public for all to hear. There were no secret political ambitions, in other words. For this truthful answer, Jesus had been struck in the face by one of the guards (Jn 18:22). Now they brought out false witnesses whose testimony did not agree (Mark 14:56-59). Meanwhile "the Incarnate Word was wordless" [5], during this mockery of a trial. However, He will answer the question put directly to Him now by Caiphas, the presiding high priest for that year, the one who had declared, "it is better to put One Man to death for the sake of the people" (Jn 18:14). Caiphas asks that Jesus tell them whether He is the Christ, the Son of God (Matt 26:63). Jesus answers with sublime dignity, "I Am" (Mark 14:62).

The affirmative answer to the question posed by Caiphas brings a sudden end to this travesty of a trial. The Accused had blasphemed, they declared and deserved the death sentence (Matt 26:65-66). Actually He had spoken the truth which they refused to believe. He Who had said "I am the way, and the truth, and the life" (Jn 14:6) would be put to death for that solemn statement which was indeed actual fact. Only Pontius Pilate, the reining Roman governor at the time, could impose the death penalty therefore Jesus was bound again and they "led Him away and delivered Him to Pilate" (Matt 27:2).

Jesus - Bound for Sentencing Before PilateSurrounded by His enemies, the Prisoner is taken to the Roman governor. Pilate is not impressed at first glance. He sees a young Man, disheveled, face showing marks of abuse, clothing soiled with dirt, hair damp and tangled and is told that this is Jesus of Nazareth Who is "saying that He Himself is Christ a king" (Lk 23:2). Nothing of royalty here, Pilate thinks. More likely a vagabond dreamer, a madman with delusions of grandeur. Yet the governor feels some discomfort in the presence of this One Man whose bearing is so quiet, so dignified, one might even say majestic, in spite of outward appearances. After a brief dialogue between the two during which Jesus plainly states, "My Kingdom does not belong to this world" (Jn 18:36), Pilate announces "I can find no fault in Him" (Jn 18:38). Having learned that Jesus was from Galilee, Pilate thought to have Herod, then the Tetrarch of Galilee, be responsible for passing final judgment on the Prisoner. Not only did Pilate have his own misgivings about the situation but while he was deliberating, "his wife sent word to him 'have nothing to do with that righteous Man, for I have suffered much over Him today in a dream'" (Matt 27:19). That message disturbed the superstitious ruler; he sent Jesus to King Herod hoping to relieve himself of sentencing the Nazarene (Lk 23:7).

Jesus under guard arrives at the Jerusalem palace of Herod who "had long desired to see Him, because he had heard about Him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by Him" (Lk 23:8). Jesus speaks not one word to the frivolous, licentious ruler. This silence infuriates Herod who turns to mockery and finally sends the innocent "Criminal" back to Pilate (Lk 23:11). Thus the Master is taken again, still tightly bound, through the streets in full view of the public. To a passerby, this One Man seems to be a violator of the law to a serious degree – why else is He treated with such contempt and maliciousness by those in charge who continually push, shove and strike Him?

The problem was back in Pilate's hands. Still anxious to not pass a final judgment on Christ, thinking that a severe punishment would satisfy His accusers, he said "I will scourge Him, and then He shall go free" (Lk 23:16). The soldiers take the Prisoner out to a courtyard. He is ordered to remove His clothing. His hands, finally unfettered, are swollen and numb from hours of being so tightly compressed. His fingers can hardly master the task and so His tormentors rudely assist as they hurl curses and obscenities at Him. Once stripped, Jesus, Incarnate Purity, is tied naked to a pillar used for this torture. His hands are above His head and again fastened tightly further injuring the already bruised wrists. He faces the column, body tense, awaiting the first blow. It comes. The scourging will be administered by two men standing on either side and in back of the Victim. [6] They use a flagrum which is a handle with thin leather straps attached having small prickly lead balls on the ends. This instrument catches in the flesh and rips it off in shreds as it is pulled back and away from the body. [7] Methodically, from the shoulders down to the calves of the legs, row after row of furrowed ridges are raised. [8] Those meting out this chastisement are continually showered with a fine mist of the Prisoner's blood. [9] At the base of the pillar, blood is collecting and pieces of flesh also. The back of Jesus is now one vast open wound from shoulders down to ankles. [10] Soft moans of pain would escape His bruised lips. "A large portion of the shoulder bones were exposed and showed red through the flowing blood; in other places also, the bones were laid bare". [11]

Under Jewish law, there was a limit to the blows allowed but Romans are meting out the punishment this day and there are no limitations. They are savage in their chastisement. Finally they finish and cut the Victim free. He lies at the base of the pillar in His own blood, exhausted and in unspeakable pain. He struggles to His feet at their orders and tries to redress as the soldiers come and lead Him to the praetorium where they have devised still more heinous torment. The whole battalion of soldiers gather to watch and participate in this next travesty (Matt 27:27). His garments are taken from Him again and a torn, scarlet robe is thrown over His wounded shoulders. Jesus is pushed down on a stool as the soldiers encircle Him. In order to ridicule His kingship "not of this world" (Jn 18:36), they have weaved a "crown" out of branches having hard, sharp and long thorns which are native to the environs of Jerusalem. Approaching Him with mock solemnity, they show Him the instrument with which they will further torture Him. The "crown bearer" handles the helmet-shaped diadem with great care so as not to prick or puncture his own fingers. Carefully He lifts it above the head of the Victim and brings it down with such force Jesus is knocked to the floor. So weak, He can hardly rise, they pull Him to His feet and seat Him again. With reeds and sticks the crown is pushed deeper into the Divine head, "and they knelt down in homage to Him" (Mk 15:19). This crown of thorns which covered the entire head of Jesus soon causes severe shooting pains in His head which very quickly radiate down to the neck and shoulders. [12] They strike His face, pummel His body with their fists and profane His countenance with their disgusting spittle (Matt 27:30). They have forced a long reed between His tightly bound hands as a mock scepter. All this abuse is heaped upon Christ to make foolish His supposed claim to earthly kingship when in fact He had made it clear to Pilate that "His Kingship was not that of an earthy kingdom obtained by military power; it was rather a spiritual Kingdom to be established in truth". [13] The insults, indignities and sufferings endured by Jesus during this scene of pain and mockery could never be accurately described. Surely the prophecy of Isaiah 50:6 is fulfilled, "I offered My body defenseless to the men who would smite Me, My cheeks to all who plucked at My beard; I did not turn away My face when they reviled Me and spat upon Me". Finally the soldiers tire of their sport; they will bring Jesus back to Pilate so that he can present this One Man, physically broken and bleeding, to the people.

PART IV: REFERENCES

3, 11 - City of God
4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12 - How Jesus Died – The Last 18 Hours
5, 13 - Life of Christ
(Other Resources: The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Anne Catherine Emmerich

Part V: The Via Dolorosa

"Pilate went out again, and said to them, 'Behold, I am bringing Him out to you, that you may know that I find no crime in him" (Jn 19:4). Jesus appears on the balcony of Pilate's palace robed in His own blood and the tattered scarlet mantle of royal mockery. Crowned with the thorns, the sceptre of a reed between His tightly bound hands, He can no longer stand in an upright posture. The abuse He has suffered has so weakened Him. His face is disfigured, bruised and swollen. Nose and lips bleeding. Raising His head as much as the clumsy, painful headdress will allow, Jesus looks out over the crowd through eyes veiled by thorn-caused tricklets of blood. His vision, blurred also by the effects of unrelenting pain, cannot make out the faces. There must be some who have experienced His compassionate healings, some who were present when He miraculously fed thousands, perhaps the only widow, from Nain in Jerusalem, for the Passover, is here with her only son who Jesus had restored to life and given back to her (Lk 7:11-15). He knows His Mother, Mary, is there suffering in her heart all His sorrow and pain. Very possibly, the words of Psalm 21:7 which foretold His sufferings fill His great heart, "I am a worm and no Man" and also the words of Isaiah 53:2, "there was in Him no stately bearing to make us look at Him, no appearance that would attract us to Him". His countenance has been so violated that He is unrecognizable – and yet He is the Son of God, the One Man most perfect!

As for the crowd, they are momentarily stunned into silence at the sight of the young, so badly mistreated, Rabbi. And Pilate, as hard as such a controller of human life would be, is shocked as he looks upon the Prisoner. We, for our part, also have to wonder at the sheer brutality of treatment Jesus suffered at the hands of these Roman soldiers who very likely did not know Him; probably never heard of Him before that fourteenth day of Nisan. What triggered and fueled their fury? As Satan entered into Judas, the traitor, the night before in the Upper Room (Jn 13:27), so his legions must have possessed these vile men and acted out in them their hatred of the Divine. These coarse, crude wielders of torture would be easy marks for such a diabolical influence. These perpetrators of cruel barbarianism who worshipped pagan gods had no idea that the One True God was using them to fulfill His own Will. For now to Pilate's question, "Do You not know that I have the power to crucify You and power to release You?" (Jn 19:10). The Christ answers, "You would have no power over Me at all, if it had not been given you from above" (Jn 19:11). This reply startles the Roman ruler as it obviously indicates that he is not in total command as he believes.

In the end, Pilate, wishing to "satisfy the crowd" (Mk 15:15), which had been stirred up to demand the death sentence (Mk 15:11), orders that Jesus be crucified. Trying to rid himself of the responsibility for the death of this One Man Who he believes is innocent of any crime, Pilate ceremoniously washes his hands to absolve himself of this Deicide (Matt 27:24). It is useless - for 2000 years Christians who recite the Creed have said "He suffered under Pontius Pilate". So it will be until the end of time!

Sentence having been passed, the executioners take charge once again. The purple mantle of mockery is pulled from the bleeding shoulders of Jesus and "they put His own clothes on Him, and they led Him out to crucify Him" (Mk 15:20). He went "bearing His own cross" (Jn 19:17).

In order to get His tunic over the head of Jesus, it is necessary to remove the cumbersome crown. Therefore, it is grasped with a stick and pulled off. Many of the long, dry, uncountable thorns are so deeply embedded that they break off and remain in our Savior's head. Some of His dark hair is hopelessly tangled in the mock diadem and is pulled away also. Once reclothed in His garments, the crown is placed back in position causing new wounds. Some on top of the already present ones.

The Prisoner will be nailed and not tied for His execution therefore the immissa cross will be used rather than the tau. It would be a square-hewn beam probably ten feet high. [14] Crosses were used an average of twenty times. Most likely this one was not a new instrument of death. It was of large, rough, uneven timber - difficult for a strong healthy man to carry let alone this One Man Who had been so horribly wounded and abused for hours on end. Yet the executioners laid it on His bleeding shoulder. That shoulder, bereft of flesh from the scourging, will feel extraordinary pain as the friction caused by rubbing against the rough wood will cause a hollow place to develop.

Having already suffered so greatly, Jesus accepts this instrument of His death knowing full well that the worst of His pain is still ahead. (No wonder He sweat blood in Gethsemane as all this unfolded before Him!) Yet He will go "all the way" to redeem mankind. No greater love could He show us than this - to lay down His life and in such a manner choosing "the most frightful death devised by man, a death whose stages constituted a refined gradation of torments". [15] He Who was without sin was made sin for each of us (2 Cor. 5:21). The Divine Sufferer is willingly "wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with His stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5). And so He takes up the cross.

The sad death procession moves forward – each participant in assigned place. First in line was the trumpeter to clear the road, then came a herald who announced the name of the criminal. Then came Jesus, Victim rather than criminal. Two council members also walked along. A Roman centurion on horseback and soldiers were part of the retinue.

Scarcely does our Savior begin the short trek to Golgotha, the hill outside the city where they will kill Him, when He stumbles and falls beneath the weight of the cross. Perhaps His bruised feet were caught in His long garments or maybe a large stone tripped Him. Having no sympathy for their Victim, wanting only to finalize their task of execution as quickly as possible and be done with Jesus, they strike Him in anger. No one attempts to help Him as He struggles to His feet. The soldiers lift the cross from the ground and place it back on the raw shoulder.

The narrow streets are crowded with visitors and pilgrims in the city for the feast of Passover. And there are those trailing along eager to see the spectacle to be made of the death of this One Man.

Hemmed in on every side by the noisy throng, critically weakened by the continuous loss of blood, nauseated by pain and exhaustion, His breathing hard and labored, Jesus falls again – and again. His knees are lacerated as He hits the ground full force on them. He endeavors to spare His thorn crowned head further agony as He extends His hands to save His face. Not always successful, there are times when the Divine, disfigured countenance meets the earth and suffers more bruising. By now, His thirst has become unbearable; He is dehydrating from the great loss of fluid beginning with the agony in Gethsemane the night before, continuing with the barbaric scourging from which He still bleeds, and the head wounds.[16]

So many people jostling each other in so cramped an area as those narrow ribbons of streets makes the air stifling. Jesus struggles for breath as desperately as He struggles to stay on His feet.

The soldiers finally conclude that their Victim is too weak to carry the cross alone. Fearing He may die and escape the ignominious death planned for Him, they constrain a passerby to help. Simon of Cyrene into the city from the country was forced to assist (Mk 15:21). In years to come, Simon's two sons, Alexander and Rufus would become dignitaries in the Church founded by this One Man (Rom 16:13), Whose cross their father carried.

Along the route were women weeping to see the young Rabbi in such a pitiable condition. Their children had been taken up in His arms and blessed. He had laid His hands on their sick little ones and restored them to health. Now He told them through labored breaths to weep not for Him but for themselves and those very children as He referred to His previous prophecy concerning the destruction of Jerusalem which would come some forty years later (Lk 23:28-31).

Tradition tells us that a lone woman braved the wrath of the soldiers, possibly taking them by complete surprise in her sudden move toward Jesus which halted the proceedings. She rushed up and with a towel gently wiped the face of our suffering Savior. In His gratitude, He left on the cloth an image of His sorrowful countenance. We know her as Veronica (meaning true image) although that was not her name.

Tradition also speaks of the meeting on that Via Dolorosa of the Mother and her Son. Mary's perfect acceptance of the Divine Will merits for her the Queenship of Heaven and earth one day but for now, anguish weighs on her heart and silent tears glisten in her eyes. To see her Jesus, her perfect Son, in such physical distress and not be able to help Him; to know the crucifixion is yet to come almost overwhelms her. Their eyes meet and lock. Heart speaks to heart. She wants Him to know how proud she is of His courage and inner strength which demands He go "all the way" in spite of the painful cost. What mother does not take pride in the accomplishments of her children – and this Son, only Child of Mary, is accomplishing the greatest work ever done: the redemption of mankind. She is well aware. For His part, Jesus wants this blessed Mother to realize how grateful He is for giving Him the Body to be sacrificed and the Blood which is even now making crimson the earth. The soldiers rudely push Jesus on; Mary is left at the side of the road with John the only disciple not to desert the Master. (Could this be why John was especially dear to the Sacred Heart of Jesus?) Mary Magdalene also is with them. The crush of the crowd moves on by as one and these three follow.

There is an ancient hymn which sings "He that was born for us has chosen to be yours" and so this chosen Mother will drink from the bitter cup with her only Son on Golgotha. She will not leave this One Man, her Child, to expiate the sins of the world with no maternal presence. She will be with Him holding Him in her heart if not in her arms.

PART V: REFERENCES

14, 15 – What Jesus Saw from the Cross
16 - How Jesus Died – The Last 18 Hours
(Other Resources: The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Anne Catherine Emmerich

Part VI: Lifted Up

"The guilt for the Crucifixion is not to be fixed upon any one nation, race, people, or individual. Sin was the cause of the Crucifixion, and all mankind inherited the infection of sin". [17] Thus the responsibility for the death of Jesus cannot be put upon any one people, but upon all mankind. "The whole world shall own itself liable" (Rom 3:19). The Father so loved the world that He sent His own Son and "gave Him up for us all" (Rom 8:32). And the Son so loved us that, He willingly came and laid down His life and took it up again on the third day.

The condemned Man has passed through the gates of the city. At His birth, there was no room for Him in Bethlehem; at His death, He is expelled from Jerusalem. In the beginning, He was counted as unworthy of an appropriate place to be born and now He ends His earthly life executed on a hill of ill repute. A loathsome place where the city discards its human trash. The bodies of orphans who died in the streets and those of uncared for criminals who nobody claimed are left here to decompose and be eaten by animals. [18] Rats scurry about at night. [19]

The cross is taken from Simon and thrown to the ground. The Victim to be fixed to it is so thoroughly exhausted and weakened by now that He needs support to stand. One of the executioners supplies it as another begins to strip Jesus of His clothing. Clothing which has become one with the wounds of the back of His body - from shoulders down to ankles. Threads of fabric are imprisoned in the blood and tattered flesh. With brutal indifference for the anguish caused to our Savior, the garments are ripped from Him. Nakedness is meant to increase the shame and indignity heaped upon Him. The wounds, subjected to an infiltration of dirt and gravel from ill treatment and the falls on the road to this place, are showing signs of infection. [20] The torturous, violent procedure itself causes Jesus to tremble and the high temperature His body is experiencing now from the foregoing sufferings chills Him. The exertion of the trek to Golgotha has caused sweating and now, divested of His clothing for the fourth time, (for the scourging, to be robed in the purple mantle, to be redressed for the Via Dolorosa, and now for the crucifixion), His misery is indescribable. As the wounds are reopened through this stripping, His entire back is on fire! Yet through it all, no word of complaint has come from these bruised and bleeding lips. He fulfills Isaiah (53:7), "He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth".

Jesus is made to lie down on the cross for the purpose of marking the places where the nails will enter the wood. This done, the crucifixion begins. All the suffering thus far has been but preliminary! The Victim so willingly extends His hand to receive the very long square-headed spike. [21] His humanity cries out in pain though He would rather spare His Mother, who stands nearby, the sound. Iron mallet crashes into iron spike until the sacred hand is one with the beam. The executioner grasps the other arm but the hand does not reach the appointed spot. This is no surprise to them for they have purposely mismarked it to further torment their helpless Captive. [22] (Both helpless and captive by His own design which fact did not lessen the agony.) The problem they created will be solved as they intended. Tying a rope around the lower part of the arm, they pull Jesus across the horizontal crosspiece. [23] His raw, open back is being invaded by splinters of rough, dirty wood from the sliding motion. Now the arm is held down while the long spike is pressed into the lower part of the hand, above the wrist, and hammered as the other. The shoulders are pulled out of their normal position as are other joints. [24] Again, the torment caused in turn forces open the sacred lips of this One Man with cries of pain. He is human, is He not?

The extraordinary violence done to the upper part of the body of Christ has caused His legs to be drawn up involuntarily. He can not force them down. The executioners, in their fury, again use ropes to tie around the lower part of these extremities and pull each leg down. [25] The feet are then flattened out against the vertical beam upon which He lies and placed one on top of the other. This is to make the position more intolerable. [26] The mallet drives a spike measuring perhaps eight or nine inches in length through both feet. [27] Since both the hands and feet of the Divine Sufferer are caked with dirt from the road and the falls on it, the wounds will quickly begin to fester as the back of His body has done.

Jesus has thus been laid on His altar of sacrifice. This One Man has taken upon Himself the atonement for our sins freely and willingly so much does He love us. And the Father has sent the Son to accomplish this great act of Divine Mercy because He so loved the world (Jn 3:16).

The executioners make ready to raise the cross – to lift it up. They intend to make the last hours of this One Man a spectacle – they have no idea that as He lies on the cross, tightly fastened to it, unable to move, face disfigured and swollen, uttering no words of malediction but rather with a sweet patience, He waits to fulfill His prophecy: "and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself" (Jn 12:32). And surely down through the ages, since that fourteenth day of Nisan in the year 33 A.D., Christ has truly drawn to Himself multitudes who have come to know and love Him.

The cross is dragged along the stones and earth closer to the already dug out hole waiting to receive it. [28] The vibrations cause the totally injured body more pain. In place now, the men raise the death bed using long sharp pointed lance like instruments to prod it in to position. With these, they cruelly inflict other wounds on Jesus as they guide the cross upright. Once raised, it is pushed to the hollow in the ground and it crashes down into it. Shock waves shake the cross with its Victim for several seconds; what agony this caused would not be possible to imagine. A ladder is placed against the cross. One of the executioners climbs up and places the mock crown back on the tortured head. Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews reads the inscription composed by Pilate to identify the crime of the dying Rabbi - this hangs now over His head. It is written in Hebrew, Latin and Greek (Jn 19:19-20).

Finally, the enemies of Jesus of Nazareth have Him where they want Him – on public display dying an ignominious death as a common criminal. Helpless and vulnerable as far as the eye can determine. To the uninformed, Jesus presents a spectacle of rejection and failure which His enemies intend that He be, but to the spiritually sighted, His majesty and magnificence shatter the outward appearances. Nails do not hold His sacred body prisoner to the cross, these He could overcome with a thought – no His heart is His captor. And its beat will not be stilled until His great love has gone "all the way" to prove God's mercy toward us sinners in need of redemption. We "Behold the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world" (Jn 1:29), as we look at Him.

Mary, the Mother of Jesus, has made her way to stand at the foot of the deathbed of her only Son. John, the favorite disciple and Mary Magdalene, the repentant prostitute, are His chosen companions along with two or three other women relatives. They look up at the beloved face now so marred that He is not recognizable. Magdalene gently kisses the bleeding feet of our Savior and bathes them with her tears as she once did in the house of Simon (Lk 7:38). Supported by John, the Mother is transfixed in anguished sorrow. She feels in her heart and soul all the torment He endures. At this point what does He endure?

Jesus, raised on the cross, body stretched beyond its capacity, has immediate and great difficulty breathing. His lungs under stress since the scourging are now, with His arms outstretched at angles above His head, incapable of normal function due to this position. Inhaled air is trapped and only some can be exhaled. [29] The only solution to alleviating this terrible situation is to try to push the body upward through pressing on the nailed feet. This position can be held for only seconds when the body slumps down again and the hands bear the weight. [30] Yet this necessary movement will continue until the Victim's exhaustion becomes completely overwhelming and all strength is gone.

At this same time, Jesus is also experiencing muscle cramps across His shoulders, lower back, upper arms and the calves of His legs. Unable to change His position, it is not possible to relieve them. [31] He is unbearably thirsty from the great loss of blood and all the profuse sweating. His swollen tongue dries to the roof of His mouth. His lips are swollen, cracked and bleeding. His great heart beats wildly causing a distress of its own – it will fail later. Jesus is enduring a multiplicity of suffering – it has become "a symphony of pain". [32] The damaged median nerves of His hands send shooting lightening bolts down His arms and into the spinal column. The plantar nerves of the feet also harmed, send the same messages of pain up the legs to the same destination. Here the two channels meet head-on in our Savior's back! That torn back hopelessly pressed against the rough wood of the cross and scraped further by the motion of His trying to raise Himself to breathe. Meanwhile the torment in His head continues and it is only with the greatest effort that He can raise it. His face, so perfect before, continues to be bathed by trickles of blood from the awful crown of thorns. Fluid is gathering internally around His heart which will help cause its failure through cardiogenic shock. [33] Because of the distention of His abdomen in the stretching of the body, His stomach stops functioning which causes yet more pain. The skin is so taut that the Savior's ribs can be seen echoing (Ps. 22:17), "I can count all My bones". His legs are swelling. [34]

Gathering all His strength to do so each time, Jesus will speak from the cross, gasping for each breath. He will forgive His persecutors and make excuses for them, (they do not know what they are doing). He will promise a thief Paradise; He will give His Mother to us and us to His Mother through St. John. He will cry out of His thirst (more for souls than water) and have a vinegar soaked sponge pressed against those already burning lips and He will quote from Psalm 21.

Jesus' moans of pain will punctuate the rhythm of His efforts to breathe as He raises His body only to let it sag again. For three hours!

The shouts of "Crucify Him!" (Mk 15:13) which assailed the ears of Jesus on Pilate's balcony, now silenced by the completion of that travesty, are replaced by the taunts of "He saved others; He cannot save Himself. Come down now from the cross" (Mk 15:31-32). They do not understand that the redemption of all mankind depends on this sacrificial act; this oblation. Satan would like nothing more than for the Christ to come down from the cross thus bringing to naught the salvation of the human race. This He will not do until the appointed hour, chosen by Him, when He declares, "It is finished. Father into Your hands I commend My spirit" (Jn 19:30, Lk 23:46). Then finally He consents to the failure of that great, courageous, love-filled heart, and gives in to the exhaustion and trauma which have consumed His body. He has lived all His life with His Passion and Death before Him. Now at last it is over! The preliminary sufferings finalized by an agonized three hour struggle on the cross has completed the work Jesus willingly came to do.

The body of our Savior is taken from the cross and placed in Mary's arms. The Sorrowful Mother looks with grief and love at her mangled only Child. She holds on her lap the fulfillment of the angelic prophecy of her conception of a Son through the power of the Holy Spirit who would be called Jesus, Son of the Most High God Whose destiny was to "save His people from their sins" (Matt 1:21). She has always understood why He was born and what her role would be: Mother of the Redeemer with all that would mean.

With great reverence, the body of Jesus is laid in the tomb and the stone rolled over to close the entrance. Soldiers will stand guard (Matt 27:66). As we have followed this One Man from Gethsemane to Calvary to learn of the depth of His love for us and the magnitude of His suffering, now we will wait for the third day and His prophecy of Resurrection to be fulfilled. (Matt 20:19, Mk 9:31, 10:34, Lk 18:33, 24:7) “I have promised it, and I will do it, says the Lord" (Ez 37:14).

"No created fire came down to devour the life that was offered to the Father, as it did in the Old Testament, for the fire would be the glory of His Resurrection and the flames of Pentecost." [35]

PART VI: REFERENCES

17, 35 - Life of Christ
18, 19, 20, 21, 32, 33, 34 - How Jesus Died – The Last 18 Hours
22, 23, 24, 25, 28 - City of God
26, 27 - What Jesus Saw from the Cross
29, 30, 31 - A Doctor at Calvary
(Other Resources: The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Anne Catherine Emmerich

Part VII: Christ Jesus Victor!

Vivid streaks of gold, purple and rose climb the sky driving away the darkness of night. The stillness almost thunders, so intense is its silence. The air is cool, a slight breeze stirs the greenery of the garden where the tomb of Jesus holds the precious body of the Crucified.

We have followed the Master; this One Man, Jesus of Nazareth, from the shadows of Gethsemane to the palaces of Caiphas, Herod and Pontius Pilate. Standing in a dark corner of the praetorium, we watched as He, Victim of hatred and sin, was savagely scourged, crowned with thorns, mocked and spit upon (Mk 15:15-20). Our guilty hearts, for we are the sinners for whom He suffers, wept at the sight. Forming part of the crowd in Pilate's courtyard when Jesus was presented for release or condemnation so terribly abused and humiliated, did we also reject Him, as did this mob, by holding on to our own personal sins? Following the Master's bloody footsteps on the Via Dolorosa, we watched Him fall and struggle to His feet again and again. We saw His Mother, Mary, approach Him blending her sorrow with His anguish. Did we hide in a doorway as He passed carrying that heavy cross and pretend not to know Him as Peter had done? Perhaps we reached out to offer our sympathy acknowledging our faith as Veronica did. Just that much would have been a comfort to His broken heart.

We stood on Golgotha loosing ourselves in the tumult of noise and chaos as the executioners fastened Jesus to the cross with spikes. Covering our ears so as not to listen to the echo of iron striking iron forcing the huge nails through flesh and wood, yet our souls could hear His pain. Lifted up on the cross, Jesus drew us out of the heavy gloom to His side. We looked upon the Lamb of God taking away the sins of the world (Jn 1:29), so wounded and dying for our transgressions (Is 5:31). Now we knew what it meant to be crucified! As guilty bystanders, let he or she who is without sin be the first to say "I am innocent of the blood of this (One) Just Man" (Matt 27:24), as Pilate did. When the Savior declared His work of redemption accomplished and gave His Spirit to the Father (Jn 19:30, Lk 23:46) the earth quaked and lightening blazed in assent. Watching His Mother take Him into her arms from the cross at last, our tears mingle with her own. Then the new tomb hewn out of rock and the waiting for the third day for the fulfillment of His promise to rise from the dead (Matt 16:21).

So it has come!

We hurry along the rocky path which winds its way to the sepulchre. A woman approaches almost running. Her long hair flowing from beneath her veil, her excitement is apparent as she reaches us. Pausing, she tells of an empty tomb! The Master is risen! She recounts her visit to the tomb desirous of anointing the blessed body of her Lord only to find it empty. Thinking He has been removed by the gardener who asked why she wept, her heart had thrilled to hear the cherished voice call her name - "Mary" (Jn 20:16). Not gardener but her Lord speaks to her! She is now on her way to tell the disciples as Jesus has instructed. Mary invites us to go and see as she hurries off toward the city gate. We continue on to the tomb site. Nearing it, we can see that the stone to the entrance has been rolled away. Peering in, an angel is seated who bids us enter and "see the place where He lay" (Matt 28:6). He is not here! Truly, Jesus our Love, Who was crucified, has risen as He said!” (Jn 20:16-17, Lk 24:5).

Later that same day, two disciples of Jesus of Nazareth have left Jerusalem to return to their homes in Emmaus. They walk along dejectedly, alternately talking in low tones and falling into periods of silence. They glance over their shoulders furtively. Eavesdropping on their conversation makes us aware they are fearful. Concerned about being followed by some spy for the authorities in Jerusalem, they are discussing their disappointment in the One Man, Jesus of Nazareth, Who they believed was the Promised One, the Messiah. They had hoped He was the Liberator they prayed would come to release their people from bondage. Their dreams had been dashed when Jesus was taken prisoner, condemned to death and crucified. But we have seen the empty tomb; we know they are mistaken in their doubts. A third Man is also making His way along the same road. Catching up to them, He asks what they are discussing with such solemnity. One of them, Cleopas, expresses surprise at the question. After all, everyone in Jerusalem is talking about the untimely death of the young Rabbi from Nazareth, "A prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people" (Lk 24:19). They go on to explain to the Stranger how their expectations had come to naught with the condemnation and crucifixion of Jesus. Continuing they tell that this is the third day since that tragic event and some of their company went to the tomb of the Nazarene and found it empty "but Him they did not see" (Lk 24:24). The young Man stops abruptly on the road and challenges them, "What little sense you have, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken" (Lk 24:25). (How surely His humanity presents itself in such a chiding comment on their lack of common sense!) Cleopas and his companion are startled by such a rebuke. As the three pick up their pace again, the Stranger interprets for them from the Scriptures, beginning with Moses and all the prophets, those prophecies which concerned the Christ and His sufferings (Lk 24:27). When they reach Emmaus, we see that the young Man seems to be going on farther. We overhear them invite Him to stay for the evening meal as night is fast approaching. When at table, He takes bread, blesses and breaks it and gives it to them to eat. Immediately they recognize the Master and He vanishes from their sight (Lk 24:28-31). For their part, their hearts are burning within them and joy fills their souls. At once, Cleopas and his friend return to Jerusalem to recount all that happened on the road and how they knew the Christ "in the breaking of the bread" (Lk 24:28-35).

We too can know Jesus in the breaking of the bread; He calls each of us by name as He did the Magdalene, on this Easter day and every day of our lives! Having walked with the Master for the forty days of Lent, having followed this One Man from Gethsemane to Golgotha trying to mentally share His sufferings, with the dawn of the third day, has come rejoicing! He has risen as He promised! We were like lost sheep gone astray each in his own sins (Is 53:6). But God so loved the world that He sent His only Son to "bear the sins of many and make intercession for the transgressors" (Is 53:12). The Son willingly came to reconcile us to the Father by His obedience to death, even death on a cross. If it were not so, we would still be in our sins in despair and without hope.

Indeed, morning has broken with the rising of a glorious sun! Death and sin have been defeated by the rising of a Glorified Son! This One Man Who "went all the way" out of love is Ruler and Redeemer, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, forever! "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, - Who is and Who was and Who is to come, the Almighty" (Apoc. 1:5a-6). Christ Jesus VICTOR!

This series is dedicated to the Crucified King of Divine Love, may it serve Him well - and to my 15 grandchildren including the Christmas angel He took to Himself before birth.


Copyright © March, 2001 by M. Dorothy Walsh





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