Reading. Mark 15: 22-39
It is because of who Jesus was, the Son of God, that the crucifixion- resurrection event is preached in our churches. The essential basis is the Incarnation, God becoming man and dwelling among us. It is because of this that there is a gospel in the crucifixion proclaiming the forgiveness of sins. It is because of this that the resurrection brings the promise of eternal life to us, and the grave loses its sting. Incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, the forgiveness of sins and the life eternal interlock.
This evening I want to look at the crucifixion from the aspect of the four soldiers whose duty it was to supervise and carry out the physical act of crucifixion. Their duties would have begun in the residence of Pilate where Jesus had been taken, been stripped of his outer garments, and dressed in a scarlet robe, a bundle of thorny twigs shaped in the form of a crown placed on his head and a reed placed in his hand as a ludicrous semblance of royalty. Mock obeisance was then made with shouts of ‘Hail, King of the Jews’.
Then the comic clothes were stripped from Jesus and replaced with his own garments. He was then marched along the crowded street to the place of execution outside the city.
On arrival at that awful site, an ugly skull-shaped hill, sufficiently high to provide spectators with a view, the four soldiers stripped Jesus of his clothes, which became their perks; they tossed for the best pieces. Jesus was offered a drink of drugged wine, which he refused. Having attached the cross-piece of the cross to the upright stake, they nailed his hands to it. The feet were often tied, not nailed, and this might have been the case with Jesus. The cross, with it’s victim, was then hauled into the upright position and made firm in the hole prepared for it. Finally, a board was fixed to the top of the upright stake displaying the words ‘Jesus, the King of the Jews’. Two robbers were also crucified, one each side of Jesus. Then the soldiers sat down to keep watch over the scene and to guard against any possibility of a rescue attempt.
No one came closer to the crucifixion of Jesus than those four Roman soldiers. They not only saw him, they touched him, they handled him. They were the last people to touch that body.
But we touch it. That is to say we touch his sacramental body. “This is my body’, said Jesus to his disciples in the Upper Room on the night before he was crucified, as he handed them bread which he had blessed and broken. This is what is repeated for us in every service of Holy Communion, as we follow his command, in remembrance of him. There is handed to us his sacramental broken body. This is what we receive. Unlike those four soldiers, we receive in faith, and in so doing know that we enter into what the incarnate Christ did for us there.
Before I finish this meditation I want us to note one of the seven sentences that Jesus uttered from the cross. It comprises those words with which we are most familiar, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”.
If to forgive means to let go, to refuse to forgive means to bind. We think of occasions when we have hurt or failed someone and they have forgiven us. We thank God for such times. We ask him to show us whether there is anyone we are refusing to forgive. Let us be aware that when we refuse to forgive someone we are in bondage to them and they to us. We ask for the grace to let go so that we and the person concerned can enjoy the freedom Christ died to win for us.
Finally, let me repeat the essential basis of our faith under the heading of three key words – Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection. This is where we have to start and on which we must never lose our hold.
LET US PRAY
Jesus our Saviour; we thank you that you endured a criminal’s death for us. When we are carried away with pride, remind us that you were betrayed, whipped, and publicly humiliated. When we are full of resentment, may we remember that you prayed, ‘Father, forgive’. Show us your way of overcoming hatred with love, and keep our eyes fixed on you, now and always.