As we move more deeply into Lent, I want to share an experience a friend told me about having when she was in seminary. In one class, a fellow student gave a presentation on what happened to a human body during a Roman crucifixion, drawing upon some medical research that had been done on that topic. As the student spoke, his description was very complete and very graphic. He described what the driving of the nails into the wrists would have done to the muscles and tissue. How the nails driven into the arch of the foot would have flexed the knees. What happens when the body sags and carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and the blood, causing intense cramps to sweep through the muscles, preventing the victim from exhaling.
The student's presentation was sickeningly detailed and at one point a class member left the room.
My friend said that the horror of that type of death really began to sink in, and she found herself feeling relief when the student giving the report got to the point of death and the body on the cross began to relax, at last free from pain.
A deep silence fell upon the room when he was done, until one of the students began to berate the presenter. "Why did you do that to us? We could have done without all that graphic detail. It was unnecessary and unfair. We all know that Jesus died and that he suffered. It doesn't need to be explained in such detail."
But the professor cut her short, and in angry words told the student that she was trying to impose her own desire for an easy crucifixion upon this presentation. The offended student stalked from the room and slammed the door behind her in protest.
Perhaps many of us share the student's feeling that all the graphic pain and suffering involved in the crucifixion of Jesus is very hard to hear about, and also very hard to watch. Some years ago Mel Gibson"s movie "The Passion of The Christ" drew the same kind of criticism for the terribly graphic depiction of the crucifixion that made me close my eyes at the unbearable cruelty and pain.
Poet T.S. Eliot once said, "Humankind cannot take too much reality."
One of our great contemporary poets is Ann Weems. In her poem titled "Put away the Tinsel" she writes,
When Lent comes,
You have to put away the tinsel;
You have to take down your Christmas tree,
And stand out in the open...vulnerable.
You either are or you aren't.
You either believe or you don't.
You either will or you won't.
And O Lord, how we love the stable and the star!
When Lent comes the angels' voices begin their lamenting,
and we find ourselves in a courtyard where we must answer
whether we know him or not.
As we prepare for Easter it is important that we not hurry too quickly past the pain of the cross. We need to stand a few minutes in its shadow. What Jesus did for us was not easy. Jesus accepted great suffering and anguish in those final hours of his human life. And as one contemporary commentator says, "It was not the nails that held Jesus to the cross; it was his love for you and me."
Pastor Nancy Becker