By WALTER ALBRITTON
As we move through the Lenten season toward the celebration of Easter, it is time once again to take a walk around that old rugged cross. Remembering the sacrifice Jesus made on that dark Friday helps me realize my pain is nothing compared to crucifixion on a cross.
The cross is the chief symbol of Christianity. So Christians put crosses on the altar, on the walls of our homes, on chains around our necks and even carry small ones in our pockets. Most of these crosses are attractive, some made of shiny brass, many quite valuable. But the cross upon which Jesus died was ugly, rugged and blood-stained.
Walk with me in your imagination. As we move toward the place of crucifixion, first picture those painful scenes of Jesus’ last days. Watch cruel soldiers laughing as they shove Jesus around, ridiculing him, humiliating him, slapping him, beating him, spitting in his face, treating him worse than you would treat a dog.
Look yonder at Pilate washing his hands of the whole affair and telling the crowd the blood of Jesus would be on their hands, not his.
Keep walking. Don’t turn away as you hear the sound of whips ripping the flesh of the best man who ever lived. The gruesome scourging continues. You shudder as the leather thongs of the whips, filled with lead and pieces of bone, tear bloody grooves in Jesus’ back.
You wince as cruel soldiers strip the clothes off Jesus, mocking him as they put a scarlet robe on him and taunting him by calling him a king. You grab your head with your hands, trembling, imaging the awful pain, as the soldiers viciously shove that crown of sharp thorns down upon his head.
Now you are in the courtyard. You are looking directly at Jesus. He is hardly able to stand, but there he is, weak, bleeding and shaking from the merciless beating. You want to run but you follow along as the soldiers make Jesus carry his cross toward the hill on which he will die. You wish you had the nerve to help him when he stumbles and falls under the weight of the cross, but you watch as the soldiers force a bystander named Simon to help Jesus carry his cross.
He is on that hill called Calvary now. You turn your face away as the soldiers hammer those spikes into his hands and his feet. They thrust the cross into the ground, raising Jesus above your head.
You wish God would let him die so his suffering could end. But his ordeal is not over. His humiliating suffering will continue for hours. You look up and gasp as blood runs red down his body, onto the cross, until it pools up on the ground at the foot of the cross. The repulsive stench of three men dying on crosses before your eyes makes you want to run.
The soldiers do not share your revulsion of the sight before you. To them, Jesus is just another criminal condemned to die. Crucifying him is merely another day’s work for them. They have no clue as to his identity. They would laugh if you told them they were crucifying the Son of God!
You are astonished to suddenly hear Jesus speaking. “Forgive them, Father, because they don’t know what they are doing.” You gasp in disbelief that anyone enduring such agony would possibly pray such a prayer.
You continue listening in amazement to all the words Jesus utters while groaning and gasping for breath. Why, you wonder, does God not allow his anguish to end? Surely he has suffered enough!
Then, not in whispered tones but with a shout, you hear him declare, “It is finished!” And finally, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” He gasps his last breath. It is over.
It dawns on you that you have been standing there for six hours. You are exhausted, trembling because of the horror you have witnessed. Your heart aches for Mary, his mother, and for his disciple John near whom you have been standing. You realize that, like others, your cheeks are wet with tears. You have no idea how long you have been crying.
As you begin to turn away, you are suddenly shocked to see one of the soldiers, a Roman centurion, fall to his knees just a few feet from you. You hear him cry out, “Surely he was the Son of God!”
Now you fall on your knees. You sense the presence of God for you have witnessed the Savior of the world die for you, and for everyone. He loved you enough to suffer like that so that your sins could be forgiven and you could receive the free gift of eternal life. You know the rest of the story, how on Sunday he walked out of his tomb and met with his disciples, instructing them to be his witnesses.
Now it’s time to walk down from Calvary’s hill and begin living like he wants you to live, telling others that he died on that cross so all of us could come alive to God — in this world and in the next.
Having walked around that cross, having seen and felt what happened there, you will never be the same. You will likely find yourself saying, “Since He was willing to die like that for me, the least I can do is to try to live my life like He wants it lived!” And with His help, you can do it! Walk on. Walk in His light. Walk knowing He is with you all the way home.