The duality of life never ceases to amaze me. We live in a universe of good and evil where virtue and savagery constantly compete for man’s passion. As a child, a tarantula frightened me yet it’s a flawlessly engineered creation.
His reward as the Redeemer was crucifixion.
I’m in my favorite leather chair, my legs and feet comfortably resting on the ottoman. My dog Lani is positioned as usual, snuggled between my legs. I’m looking out at the spectacular vista beyond my windows. I love these moments with her. They’ll be part of my memory forever.
She stirs and moves to another of her favorite locations, the couch. She looks over at me for an okay and climbs on up. Three spins, situating herself perfectly, her eyes rolling back in her head, my beautiful black Lab slowly exhales and sleeps.
The quiet allows me to think. I seem to be on two paths; survival in this world and preparing for the next. I guess one could technically prepare for Hell, but I’m aiming more North. To be with Him.
It’s amazing to me that a man who roamed the Middle East 2,000 years ago would monopolize my thoughts, but He does. Everyday. And as Easter approaches––commemorating the time of his resurrection at Golgotha––I’m reminded that the cross shadowed His birth, life and death.
At one end of a sun-drenched meadow is a mountain trail. It gently arcs as it descends to my level. Slowly, a figure comes into view. We watch him. His eyes land upon each of us, we number in the hundreds, but we stand apart. As the trail ends, He meanders through the earth colors of flowers and grass taking in the beauty of His genius. Shrouded in a red robe, He’s walking pensively toward us. He is the most spectacular man I’ve ever seen. I’m transfixed.
This perfect being, Jesus Christ, the beginning and the ending, stops in front of a woman. He lays His hand on her trembling shoulder and searches her eyes. I can’t hear what He says to her but Jesus communicates with words and touch. Moments pass, He smiles softly, she stills and is overwhelmed with a sense of peace. She returns the smile and is radiant as she watches Him walk toward a forlorn man meters away.
Christ stops in front of this man who seems agitated, clearly a soul in turmoil. Jesus gently takes his hands in His and wonders why He sees defiance on this person’s face and rejection in his eyes. The man hesitates but then looks away from Jesus and toward a scraggly thorn bush at the edge of the meadow. Leering out from behind the bush, meeting the man’s gaze is a despicable creature, Lucifer himself.
Jesus says something to the man who halfheartedly twists back to Christ, but with a shake of his head, the man looks down and pulls his hands away. Jesus observes, in this case, the damning exercise of free will. This newly lost soul again turns his back to the denied Christ, the separation complete. As Jesus walks toward me, His eyes glistening, the fallen man appears colorless and transparent.
As Jesus stops in front of me, His piercing blue, sky-reflecting eyes are mesmerizing. His face is both human and divine. Authentic as creation. He’s the best of all of us yet the depth of His humanness and the breadth of His divinity are unfathomable.
He places one hand on my shoulder. I take his other hand between mine and hold it gently, joy welling up as I experience my Father’s comfort. As I start to drop to my knees in reverence, He gently grabs my elbows, pulls me up and embraces me. His voice in my ear is both prescient and soothing. My forehead on His shoulder, my heart leaps knowing that eternity with my creator is a possibility.
Jesus leaves me, He moves from person to person and the same patterns persist; there are those that surrender to His love and are accepting and those that deny Him. Those who refuse His grace of redemption and succumb to the deceit of the great Liar have a new god––he cowardly hides behind the barbs and spines of a bush.
The last person Christ encounters is His mother Mary. She’s at the far edge of the meadow watching crude profane men prepare a cross for crucifixion. Mary, knowingly, hugs her child realizing her protective arms are but a brief respite to the horrors ahead. Jesus kisses His mother’s forehead, kisses her tears and whispers in her ear. Her color is as white as a corpse. (Anne Catherine Emmerich, an Augustinian nun and mystic who lived at the turn of the nineteenth century, is renowned for her ecstatic visions. I borrow some of her imagery to complete this story.)
Jesus leaves His mother and willingly walks toward the cold men who are supremely qualified for the torture ahead. His garments are torn from His back, and the scourging begins. For fifteen minutes, the men strike repeatedly covering His body with black, blue and red marks; His blood trickles to the ground. He falls constantly but is picked up each time.
When the thugs begin to tire, more take their place. Enthusiastically. Their weapons penetrate to Jesus’ bone and tear off large pieces of flesh at every blow. One constantly strikes Christ on the face with a rod. To this point, Jesus has been scourged for forty-five minutes. He falls to the ground, barely conscious, and lies in pools of blood.
The executioners aren’t finished. They again begin to strike Jesus, coercing Him to rise and point to the cross. Without defiance, Jesus Christ raises himself with great difficulty, as His trembling limbs can barely support the weight of His body. They place a crown of thorns on His head. And mock Him.
They order Him to lie on the cross. He acquiesces. They seize His right arm, tie it down tightly with a cord and place His hand over the hole ready for a nail. One has his knee on Jesus’ chest, another is holding His hand flat. A third takes a thick long nail, presses it to Christ’s open palm and with a great iron hammer drives it through the flesh and far into the wood of the cross. They do this as well with His left hand.
Jesus’ knees are curled up in reaction to the violent way His hands have been nailed to the cross. They roughly flatten them out and tie them tightly with cords. They tie His arms and chest to the cross as well and fasten His left foot onto His right, first boring through His feet. They take a long nail and with imprecise aim, they drive it completely through to the wood below. Thirty-six blows they hammer; drunken exuberance is not precise.
Then with ropes fastened to the cross, the murderers support it as it’s raised and positioned in the hole where it seats with a mighty shock. Jesus utters a faint cry, His wounds are torn open; blood spews and His half dislocated bones grind against one another.
From my vantage point in the meadow, I see Christ hanging on the cross, a moment of anguish. His and mine. Occasionally, His blood filled eyes survey the meadow and over time, He sees us all. And in those moments, He miraculously conveys the defining truth of our existence.
He loves us. Unconditionally, eternally, indescribably.
Jesus’ suffering lasts throughout the day until I hear Him say, “It is finished”; the most paradoxical words ever spoken. Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh dies so I may live. To verify death or vilify the so-called King of the Jews, a Roman soldier pierces Jesus’ side with a spear. Blood and water flows––humanity’s rebirth and purification. Then the meadow, previously a place of wonder, begins to transform as lightning, tremors, rain and wind drive everyone away.
The thorn bush, absent its crown of thorns, crumbles to dust. Satan, the emperor of evil men, cowardly scampers away not realizing that this crucifying act, the greatest of all evil will deliver the greatest of all good. Man’s salvation.
Thank you! Words––don’t suffice. My true gratitude to the Lord on this Easter is best expressed by the life I aspire to live. In faith. In trust. Accepting of His will. Dear Lord, give me strength.