First, the frenzied, howling Sanhedrin. Slapping, punching, spitting all the while … perhaps kicking him if he fell. During the night watch, his anxiety and fear for what he knew is coming is so great that the net of blood vessels around his sweat glands constricted, then hemorrhaged. Hematidrosis. As a result, his skin is extremely fragile and sensitive; every punch and slap is exquisitely painful.
The humiliation of the crowning as Rex Iudaeorum - not a wreath or circlet but a cap woven out of branches from the local thorn bushes, each thorn a nail in his scalp, with a staff made out of reed for a scepter, a scepter with which he’s struck like a club.
But that isn\’t enough. Two Roman soldiers with flagella - whips of leather, with small bones tied to the ends that rip the skin off his back and tear pieces of muscle out. Tied to a post, there’s no way he can move, even involuntarily, that could avoid the clawing fragments that shred his back. There’s no way I can not hear him screaming his agony; slaves have been known to die as a result of the forty lashes.
Then the crossbeam is loaded onto his shoulders, raw and bleeding from the whips, bringing a fresh agony. Weakened, his heart already beginning to be squeezed and his lungs filled by fluids, he stumbles along the travertine-paved road from the castra praetoria to the place called Golgotha. He has probably already lost a liter of blood, if not more: category 3 shock numbs his mind, but doesn’t deaden the pain. He stumbles once, twice, a third time … a passerby is dragooned into helping him, not for mercy’s sake—what Roman soldier chooses mercy over duty?—but to speed things up: the Galilean isn\’t moving quickly enough.
What\’s left of his clothes—mere blood-sodden rags by now, except for the cloak—are stripped off, and his arms tied to the crossbeam. Then the incredible thunderclap of pain as the first nail is driven through his hand, grating the median nerve in its passage; his vocal cords already raw with the agony of his scourging are yet torn again by his screams. The hypostasis perfect, the God feels what the Man feels (He has always known this pain in His eternal Being; there is no moment where He does not feel the shattering, piercing metal sunder his flesh). Another nail, another wave of blasting torment—a third rip, this time through both feet—and then the ache as his horror is lifted vertical.
Staying alive to say the things he must say is an ongoing torture in itself. If he lets his weight sag down, his diaphragm is compressed, and he can\’t draw enough air in. So he must force his transfixed feet to take his weight and push himself up, the movement causing the nails in his hands to rub the median nerves. He still loses blood from his back, as well as his four new wounds (even plugged, so to speak, by the horrific spikes). A promise to a thief he’s never encountered before—a gift of a grieving mother to a weeping disciple—“I thirst”, and a sponge full of sour wine lifted to his lips.
There were solitudes beyond where none shall follow. There were secrets in the inmost and invisible part of that drama that have no symbol in speech; or in any severance of a man from men. Nor is it easy for any words less stark and single-minded than those of the naked narrative even to hint at the horror of exaltation that lifted itself above the hill. Endless expositions have not come to the end of it, or even to the beginning. And if there be any sound that can produce a silence, we may surely be silent about the end and the extremity; when a cry was driven out of that darkness in words dreadfully distinct and dreadfully unintelligible, which man shall never understand in all the eternity they have purchased for him; and for one annihilating instant an abyss that is not for our thoughts had opened up even in the unity of the absolute; and God had been forsaken of God. (Chesterton, G. K. . The Everlasting Man. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, p. 212.)
Saint Paul wrote, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied.” (1 Cor 15:17-19)
Yet, this moment, this terrible cry from the agony of the Savior, is a challenge to faith that precedes the Resurrection. Indeed, if there were any truth to the claim that the Gospel’s records of miracles and signs were mere retrojected embellishments, then it’s amazing the synoptic authors took no care to excise this most paradoxical of Christ’s utterances.
“A-HA!” the unbeliever shouts triumphantly. “At the very end, Jesus knew! All his illusions and delusions are stripped away, and he knows himself to be mere mortal speaking to empty air, the God with whom he counted himself equal nowhere to be found, a product of his disturbed imagination!”
This then is the edge of the chasm of faith — you leap across or you don’t. Either Jesus was precisely who he said he was (the Son of God, eternally one with the Father) or he’s a mere man … a charlatan or a megalomaniac. And if there hadn’t been a psalmist several centuries before who wrote a song of despair and persecution, we should be in desperate straits indeed.
However, there was such a bard, and he left a prophecy amidst his writings. Jesus, his end drawing nigh, used some of his last breaths to scream out its first line, to reveal himself as the Suffering Servant long foretold:
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
Why so far from my call for help, from my cries of anguish?…
In you our ancestors trusted;
they trusted and you rescued them.
To you they cried out and they escaped;
in you they trusted and were not disappointed.
But I am a worm, hardly human,
scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me; they curl their lips and jeer;
they shake their heads at me:
“You relied on the Lord — let him deliver you;
if he loves you, let him rescue you.”…
Many dogs surround me; a pack of evildoers closes in on me.
So wasted are my hands and feet
that I can count all my bones.
They stare at me and gloat;
they divide my garments among them;
for my clothing they cast lots.
But you, Lord, do not stay far off;
my strength, come quickly to help me.
Deliver me from the sword,
my forlorn life from the teeth of the dog.
Doubtless the people gathered around his cross murmured the shepherd king’s prophetic song as his descendant commended his spirit to God.
Then he is dead. I killed him. And so did you.
© 2014. Anthony S. Layne. All rights reserved.