By WALTER ALBRITTON
The beauty of springtime often emerges during the Lenten season. Blossoming daffodils and dogwoods invite us out of winter doldrums. Weary of storms and cold weather, we joyfully welcome the changing of the seasons and eagerly await the pageantry of Easter. It is, however, important during these lovely days that we take the time to soberly recall that great deed of God two thousand years ago — the crucifixion of His Son, Jesus.
In his Gospel, John does not describe the horrible details of Jesus’ death on a cross. There was no need to do that. His readers understood what took place. They had seen many people crucified by the Romans. Crucifixion was always public, perhaps in the hope that it would deter crime. John says simply, “They crucified him.”
Roman citizens were spared this dehumanizing form of execution. The Romans reserved crucifixion for slaves and others guilty of heinous crimes. It was a brutal way to die and it was the way Jesus died. The Romans did not invent crucifixion. They learned it from the Greeks. However, the Romans fine-tuned it. They devised ways to make it more painful so the victim would not die quickly but suffer many hours, sometimes days, before dying.
Metal spikes or nails were driven into the victim’s wrists to injure the main nerve to the hand and cause intense pain. Rupturing this nerve made it extremely painful for the victim to use his arms to push his body upward in a desperate effort to breathe. Another Roman tweaking of crucifixion involved the victim’s feet. They were raised up slightly, with the knees bent a little, before being nailed to the cross. This enabled the criminal to breathe a longer time by pushing himself upward on the cross, allowing the lungs to expand a little. The effort to breathe was rewarded by dreadful pain. Had the legs and feet been allowed to hang down unrestrained, death would have come more swiftly.
The pain of crucifixion was so terrible that a new word was coined to explain it: excruciating. In Latin, it means torture, as in crucifying, from the cross. Now, whenever we hear the word or use it, it can remind us of the death of Jesus. We must not neglect to remember that the pain Jesus endured by flagellation and by writhing on the cross was beyond agonizing. In other words, excruciating.
As we move through Lent, we can strengthen our faith by reflecting on the gruesome details that John left out when he said, “They crucified him.” Embrace the truth that Jesus was crucified for your sins. Say aloud to yourself: Jesus was crucified for my sins. He died for me — so that I could be saved from my sins and receive the gift of eternal life. For me, for me, he bled and died that cruel death.
Take time to pray. Praise Him. Tell Him you love Him. Give thanks to the One who suffered unbearable pain so that you could enter and live in the Kingdom of God. Wrap your mind around the most awful fact in human history — God suffering and dying on a cross out of love for his creation. There on that cross God was offering Jesus, the Lamb of God, to be sacrificed on the altar of sin so that the world might be reconciled to God.
Finally, as you reflect on the crucifixion, remember that though Jesus died for you, and was buried in a borrowed tomb, God raised Him from the dead and He is now alive, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. You can ask Him to help you find ways to express your gratitude for the sacrifice He made for you on that cruel cross. Listen carefully. I think you will hear Him saying, “Love God. Love your neighbor. Love your enemies. Love everyone.”