The Way of the Cross 12 Jesus Dies on the Cross.
On the way of the cross we have been following the progress and suffering of Jesus as he made his way through Jerusalem to Calvary. We have been looking at each situation to discover what messages are contained there for us.
In this station we come to the death of Jesus. It is a scene of loss and sadness. It is also one of relief that his suffering has come to an end. His suffering has put our own pain into perspective. Is that what this station is about, relief that it is all over?
After all his suffering it comes as no surprise to us that Jesus dies. It did come as a surprise to Pontius Pilate. As we will see later, he thought the death would have come much later. It is worth looking at how the cross kills. Death on the cross was a slow process. The victim is suspended by his arms with his legs helping to support his weight. The effect of this was to restrict his breathing and as he tired more pressure on his breathing would eventually kill him. This was a slow tortuous process intended to inflict a great deal of suffering.
The crowd has gathered to watch the spectacle. Many laugh and jeer. We might find this hard to understand but it is worth remembering that public executions in this country only ended in the UK with the execution of Michael Barrett on the 26th of May 1868 outside Newgate prison. In the case of Jesus the crowd did not understand who he really was. When he cried out he was offered vinegar to drink, probably vinegar and water as a way of hydrating him and keeping him alive to extend the suffering.
How did Jesus behave in his suffering? He continued to teach us how to live. There were two thieves crucified beside him. To the thief who confessed his guilt and asked to be remembered he promised paradise. Before giving up his spirit he asked the Father to forgive his tormentors. There is a powerful message for us there. How easy is it to forgive those who we think have slighted us or hurt us? Yet here is Jesus forgiving not only criminals but the very people who have tortured and put him to death.
Pilate orders the victims’ legs to be broken to hasten their death as it was almost Passover. Breaking the legs of the victims meant they could not support their weight and the whole weight would act to restrict their breathing. The soldiers reported that Jesus had already died, much to the surprise of Pilate. Jesus was not to be ruled by death he was about to conquer death. At his death Jesus has now left his human condition, his work done. What was his final message to us?
Jesus had already taught his followers that the commandments could be summarised in two simple commandments.
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees they got together and to disconcert him, one of them put a question, ‘Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?’ Jesus said, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second resembles it: You must love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang the whole Law, and the Prophets also.’
Matthew 34: 34, 40
Now in his crucifixion Jesus is revising that teaching. He goes much further. Jesus dies on the cross to save each of us. In doing so he demonstrates a love for us which is greater than love for himself. I think this is the most significant message Jesus gives us in his last act. The message is clear; Jesus’ sacrifice was to complete the Father’s plan for us. He demonstrated his love for the Father and his love for us. If we are to take up our cross as Jesus instructs us then we must love God and love our neighbour more than we love ourselves.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.’
Matthew 26: 24, 25
Does this mean we must all be martyrs if we are to be true Christians? That is too simplistic. It really means that our neighbour’s needs are not to be put aside until we have completely satisfied all our own needs. We can’t put off helping the hungry until we have had our lavish Christmas dinner. We might have to put off buying those nice shoes we saw in the shop window and spend the money on helping the victims of Ebola virus.
We can find lots of examples of people who put the needs of others before themselves. The medical staff who travelled to West Africa to treat Ebola victims, risking their own lives, come to mind immediately. Think of others whose lives are put at risk for the wellbeing of others. I recall watching a fire engine racing towards a block of flats and thinking, what kind of person will run into a burning building when everyone is running out? These are special people indeed.
We have example of priests and religious who give up a normal family life in the service of the rest of us. What does that mean for us? In marriage we must live not only with each other but for each other. Our lives are put at the service of our spouse and our children. Jesus dies on the cross. Our cross is to live for others, not too much to ask in comparison.
Now you might be thinking that this article is a bit serious for a Christmas edition of the paper. Surely we should be thinking of happier things at Christmas? Well, I think it is a fitting topic and I’ll tell you why.
At Christmas we are celebrating the birth of Jesus. A child’s birth is always a cause for great celebration. But, this birth is different. Jesus brings joy, not only to the family and those around but he brings joy for all mankind. This birth is more important than any other because it is the beginning of the process of our redemption. Jesus has come, not only to let mankind experience the presence of God among us but to teach us how to live with each other and to open Heaven for us.
The Nativity and the crucifixion are the beginning and end of Jesus’ time on earth. Without the Nativity there could be no salvation and without Calvary the Nativity would be insignificant. While we are enjoying our Christmas celebrations and visiting the child in the manger let us remember that this child came to change the world. His coming is a threat to many and a promise of salvation for all. He presents us with a choice; indulge yourself in the pleasures of this world or join with me in changing the world for ever.
It is tempting to just sing the carols, send the cards and wish each other ‘Happy Christmas’. It is surely a time for great joy and celebration. We will all be giving and receiving gifts but are we prepared to go further and take up Christ’s challenge and give up our lives?