Rank the following in order of importance to your faith:
a. The Life and Teachings of Jesus
b. The crucifixion of Jesus
c. The resurrection of Jesus
It’s amazing to me how varied people’s answers are, when I ask this. What’s your order?
Mine is a, c, b. Even though I know resurrection is the gift at the heart of my relationship with God, I can’t help but think about how much Jesus has taught me to walk in the light.
I suppose I go back and forth between a and c. But b, crucifixion, never makes it out of the 3 spot.
I was reading about crucifixion, about how extremely painful a form of execution it was. How the nailing of the hands, which was not always done, would have added another layer of agony. Add to that Jesus’ scourging, whipped until he was bloody, and there’s no discounting the suffering he encountered. It was unspeakably bad.
And yet I do not give it the attention I give the other parts of the story. Have I been discounting Jesus’ pain?
I’ll admit, it occurs to me that there have been many others to die on a cross. Many to be tortured, punished, put to death in cruel and unimaginable ways. I’ve seen the pain of warfare and the harm of disasters. I am aware that these human bodies are mortal, and fragile. It’s all part of being human.
Jesus died among the worst ways possible. But there were two thieves hanging there with him, enduring the same fate. There have been saints who have been martyred in the same way as Jesus.
Crucifixion? It’s a terrible way to go, but for me, it’s not the showstopper of Holy Week.
Until I think of this:
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. —1 Peter 2:24
The physical pain of the cross would pale in comparison to the spiritual weight of the world. He “bore our sins” in order to heal us, an unthinkable feat. Without Jesus’ pain, the Easter story would be very different. The entire Jesus story would be very different. The pain of the crucifixion anchors Jesus as our champion, taking on all the sin the world can throw at him.
And still…I can’t stay there. I can’t give the crucifixion the same due I give the resurrection, or Jesus’ ministry. Here’s why:
Whereas there is a place for me in the crowds that followed the life and ministry of Jesus, and a place for me inside the wondrous empty tomb on that Easter morn, I find no place for me on the cross of the crucifixion. It’s too powerful, too dark, too dangerous.
I can look at the cross, and pray at the cross, and pick up my own cross, but I cannot climb up and embrace the burden of this kind of pain. There is only one who ever could.
And so, this Holy Week, I invite you to spend some time with all 3 parts of Jesus’ story. . There’s a reason it is referred to as the Greatest Story Ever Told. If some parts are more painful to watch than others, just do what I do:
Take a good long look,
But keep a safe distance.