Last week I was doing some spring cleaning in my yard. Spring cleaning means raking and bagging the leaves that had fallen since my last clean up. It meant picking up small branches that had fallen from the trees over the winter. During that clean up I got a small thorn from a barberry bush in my right thumb. I could not see that thorn but every time I put pressure on the pad of my thumb I certainly felt it.
I was thinking about that thorn, which took me more than a week to finally remove all of it, in relationship to the things Jesus endured on that day of his crucifixion. It always amazes me when I read the account of his trial and subsequent flogging and crucifixion how the scriptures never dwell on the brutality of it all. Since the scriptures do not dwell on it, neither do we as a church. We focus on the ultimate meaning of his atoning for the sin of us all. But my little pain in the thumb had me reflecting on how Jesus could endure all he did that night and the next day. I decided to go load up the DVD player and once again watch the movie “The Passion of the Christ” by Mel Gibson. Watching it I knew that even Gibson’s portrayal of the cruelty of his flogging and crucifixion was not as horrific as it truly was.
How did Jesus endure it all when I wanted the pain of that thorn to end? We have this tendency to not only gloss over his ability to withstand the brutality of his crucifixion but instead we tend to believe his divinity was his source of strength. His divinity was not the reason he never asked for the torturer’s to stop. He took it all without complaint because he relied on the power of God to work through him as a human. He took it all because God strengthened him as he promised to strengthen us.
We know how people break whenever they are tortured. We have learned from those who endured WWII prisons in Asia how torture eventually breaks everyone. We know Jesus did not beg for his crucifixion to end but instead he never uttered a word until the sins of the world were placed on him.
The issue for us is how we look at this day. We can look at it as a day which begins the Holy Week Triduum or we can look at it as a day of great meaning for us. Jesus was not thinking of how we would celebrate his death instead he was only thinking of how his death would pay the penalty of death warranted by our sin. He was thinking of how his sacrifice would restore our relationship with God. His words to the thief on the cross, “this day you will be with me in paradise” are words spoken to each and every one of us who acknowledges him as Lord.
On this day we remember his sacrifice not because it is an event recorded in history and in our scriptures. We must celebrate and remember it because his death accomplished for us what we could never accomplish by our own righteousness. Paradise is ours because of this day.
Let me invite you to do something today. In our parishes today we will have two opportunities to look upon a cross. The first you can do when a deacon or priest carries a cross down the aisle and chants “behold the wood of the cross on which our savior hung.” The second opportunity to do this is when a cross is held for us as a community to individually venerate. What I invite you to do is in your mind visualize your sin being placed on the cross. Then as that cross goes by you or when you leave it after you go to venerate it, feel the freedom of leaving your sins on the cross with Jesus. Then thank Jesus for all he endured, including his death, for the forgiveness of your sin.