I remember one night, long ago, when we were watching a horror movie, just my daughter and I. Being rather young, when we came to the really scary parts, she would cover her eyes with her hands and she would say, “I really just don’t want to see this part.” But on closer inspection, I noticed there was always a little space between the fingers through which she would peer at the horrific action. I think for most of us, thinking about the cross of Jesus is like that. We don’t really want to see, or if we do, we would prefer to peek, lest we see to clearly. For most of us, the sign of the cross is really an unbearable thing too look at too long, too closely.
At the very least, the cross is a reminder of man’s inhumanity to man. We may live in an era in which we celebrate the advances of medicine and humane benevolence throughout the world. By contrast, crucifixion was a method of death scientifically calculated to maximize human suffering. The practice of crucifixion was widespread in the ancient world; the historian Josephus accounts of an instance in which there were eight hundred people crucified at one time. Crucifixion seemed to be reserved generally for males; Josephus narrates the details of instances in which the crucified endured more than physical torment, citing instances in which family members were killed also. The family members were brought before the cross and the crucified was made to watch as the soldiers slit the throats of their loved ones. Thus, the last visual image of the crucified was that of the agony of his family commingled with the physiological torment of his own crucifixion.
Death by crucifixion took time. One did not die quickly. Our Lord died after three hours on the cross; it was not unknown for others to survive for a day or so. Causes of death were generally exposure, exhaustion from breathing, asphyxiation, and dehydration, not so much the loss of blood. Part of the science of crucifixion was to avoid severing major arteries lest the condemned die too quickly.
It seems to me that if God were going to save a world such as ours, the sign of salvation would have to be something so horrible as the cross. Despite great advances in medicine, science, and technology, there are still plenty of examples of human’s inhumanity to one’s fellow humans. There is still plenty of racism, hatred, prejudice, and violence to go around. If nothing else, the recent murder of Trayvon Martin ought to remind us of this. We live in an angry and unforgiving world—at least it is so much, if not most of the time. We do not particularly need a cross to remind us how there is a price affixed to most of life. What we need a cross for is that we may be reminded how it is that God can triumph over those unsavory realities of the world.
So, when I read the paper, listen to the news, hear the grief and the sorrow borne by people far and near, ultimately I have come to the point where the cross of Jesus makes sense. In reality, we all walk in the way of the cross. Do we find it the way of redemption? Do you find it the way of life and peace?