Thursday, March 20, 2008

12th Station: Jesus dies on the Cross

“My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?”

It will not be much longer now. Jesus will soon be dead and I can order my men to turn back to the Praetorium. I have had enough and so have they. Some of the Jews have been mocking Jesus even in his agony up there on the Cross, but most of us who are Romans did not. Even those who cast lots for the bloodstained, seamless robe that Jesus was wearing are looking sheepish and trying to disguise their actions. I presume that the man who cast the winning throw will try to sell the robe to supplement his paltry wages. After all, it is a fine piece of work and an excellent example of a local craft. His bundle is an embarrassment, so he will not keep it for long. It is a pity. Why does he not give it to the mother of Jesus, for she is standing there at the foot of the Cross.

I am sickened by today’s deeds. I long to be away from here. I had thought that I was battle-hardened and could stomach most things, but I hate being present at a crucifixion, even that of a criminal… and Jesus was no criminal. He was innocent of any wrongdoing. It should have been his captors who were brought to their just desserts. After all, is it not written in their Law that someone who wrongfully accusers another must suffer the same fate as the one whom they condemn? That would have turned the tables pretty successfully if Pilate had thought of it, but then he would have been in severe trouble with Caesar if he had crucified the High Priests and some of the other Temple authorities.

“My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?”

Does Jesus truly feel himself to be abandoned by the God whom he has been preaching? Does he feel the depths of desolation that I feel creeping into my own heart?

The weather is deteriorating and the rain is starting to fall, but I am cold with an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness. If Jesus dies, I can see nowhere to go. Since we left the Praetorium, I have begun to see the truth of some of the words that I have heard reported of him. We have executed someone who has only done good things for others.

Even as he hangs there, mocked by some of those whom one would have thought would have pitied a fellow Jew, he has uttered not a single word of criticism. Of course, speech is difficult because it is suffocation that eventually kills in crucifixion, when nailed feet can no longer push the body up high enough to take one more breath. It is a cruel death. Still, some victims manage to utter a few words of well-chosen curses over those who surround their death-throes.

But it has not been so with Jesus. He actually prayed for his persecutors. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

I am stunned with amazement. He has forgiven those who have killed him. He has even offered forgiveness to me! I do not know what to do with that forgiveness. A short while ago I prayed to his God to release me from the burden of guilt that will haunt me for the rest of my life and it was as if Jesus heard that prayer, for it was a prayer, even if a selfish one, and has held out a hand to me even whilst it is nailed to his Cross!
“Mother, behold your son. Son, behold your mother.”

God of Jesus, I think my heart will break if I hear much more. Even as he is dying, Jesus thinks of others and instructs his mother and friend to care for each other as a son and a mother. I can see that this is an instruction that they do not want to hear even as they pull closer together. They genuinely care for each other, but they would prefer to have Jesus alive and whole, not broken and dying.

“I thirst.” Those are the only words that Jesus has spoken on his own behalf. He has not asked to be rescued from his pain or from this terrible death. Suspended between heaven and earth is a sign that he has been rejected by the gods and by man. That is why it is such a terrible death. Yet he has asked for nothing for himself. He has only declared that he is thirsty. Of course he is. He has lost so much blood. He must be bitterly cold, not only because the weather is turning increasingly towards a big storm, but also because he is in shock after so much trauma. He has a thirst that nothing will quench, especially a little vinegar on a dirty sponge.

Yet I have a feeling that Jesus is speaking of a different thirst. Even on the Cross, he is consumed with longing. If only I could read his mind even now. I cannot put into words the effect he is having on me. My earlier guilt is being replaced by something else that I am as yet unable to identify. I have a feeling that Jesus would be able to tell me exactly what is happening, and yet, because I am one of those who has killed him, I cannot hope to sit with him and listen to his wisdom. I am also thirsty with longing, but will I ever have an answer now that Jesus is dying? Does that mean that the God of Jesus has forsaken me just as he seems to have abandoned the one who described himself as the Son of God?

“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

Even as he is dying, Jesus still trusts the God whom he also feels has left him alone in this terrible agony. Does he feel the darkness of absolute despair, or is his God starting to make himself known to the human wreck who hangs there above me? Is Jesus at last beginning to experience some consolation in return for his loyalty and obedience? How can he, from such a terrible position, still place himself in the hands of his God? Does that mean that the God of Jesus is stronger than Jupiter or Mithras? Our soldiers’ god, Mithras, does demand bloody sacrifice, but does not receive the loyalty and commitment that Jesus offers his God. Who is the God of Jesus?

“It is finished!”

Jesus is dead. We can now go home, but I am not the same person who went on duty this morning. I have been changed… and for ever. I am overwhelmed by an unutterable weariness and an emptiness I cannot describe.

Truly, today, we have killed the Son of God.