Thursday 29 March 2018

Jesus was crucified, died and was buried

A meditation in Killodiernan on Tuesday in Holy Week, 27 March 2018

In our evening services this Holy Week we are reflecting on some phrases from the Apostles’ Creed. Yesterday evening in Templederry, Rev Rod led us to reflect on the words – Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate. This evening I am asking you to meditate on the words: Jesus was crucified, died and was buried. Tomorrow evening in St Mary’s Nenagh the words will be Jesus descended to the dead.

Jesus was crucified.
·         We can’t avoid Jesus’s suffering, even if we feel we can’t bear it. We must face squarely the excruciating physical pain of the Cross. Excruciating – the word literally means ‘from a cross’.
·         What did crucifixion involve?
o    The nails would have been hammered through Jesus’s wrists, not the palms of his hands as imagined in medieval pictures, because only bones can support the weight of a body.
o    The arms would be spread quite wide, because if the angle were narrow Jesus would have died too quickly from suspension asphyxiation. Even so he would have felt he could hardly breathe. And to get relief by hauling his body upward on the nails would be very painful.
o    Death could come either from asphyxiation, or by shock and dehydration. Liquid loss from the scourging and exposure in bright Judean sun would lead quickly to dehydration.
o    Jesus would have become very thirsty. As dehydration worsened, his heart would begin to race and his breathing would become fast. He would experience headache and nausea. At about 15% fluid loss he would begin to suffer muscle spasms and vision loss. Death would follow later.
o    It could take days to die on a cross. If the executioners wanted to speed the process up, they would smash the victim’s legs to cause traumatic shock and hasten death. Jesus didn’t have to suffer this because his death came mercifully fast, but the two criminals beside him did.
·         Conjure up in your mind’s eye Jesus’s broken body hanging in excruciating pain. Excruciating pain which Jesus accepts obediently, as his loving Father’s will. Excruciating pain which Jesus accepts willingly, to show us the way to enter God’s kingdom.
·         In a few moments of silence let us think about the love Jesus showed by accepting crucifixion.

Jesus died.
·         John tells us that at the moment of his death Jesus uttered a great cry: “It is finished!” It is a shout of triumph. He didn’t whisper it, like someone forced to admit defeat. He didn’t mouth it in relief that his agony is over. He threw back his head and he shouted it. “I have done it!” he is saying, “I have faced the very worst, and I have won!”
·         By his victory won upon the cross, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, our friend and brother, shows us all the way to vanquish sin and death with the weapons of love. It is only left to us to follow.
·         The note of triumph in Jesus’s last word from the cross is a foretaste of his resurrection. But we are running ahead of ourselves. Before we meet him again on Easter Morning, we must follow him to the tomb.
·         Let us be silent again as we think about what Jesus achieved for us by his death on the cross.

Jesus was buried.
·         In Jewish law, in Deuteronomy (21:22), it is written: “When someone is convicted of a crime punishable by death and is executed, and you hang him on a tree, his corpse must not remain all night upon the tree; you shall bury him that same day.” The Temple authorities have no option but to arrange with Pilate for the bodies of Jesus and the two criminals to be taken down.

·         But where to bury him? The little party of disciples from Galilee would not have the resources to do so decently. Two people step forward to help. Joseph of Arimathea is rich and powerful, a member of the Sanhedrin, and a secret disciple of Jesus: he provides the tomb - his own, we are told. Nicodemus is also a secret disciple; he had visited Jesus at night, because he was afraid to do so publicly: he provides the ointments and spices needed to embalm the body. Together they make sure that Jesus is buried with decent reverence.
·         It’s amazing, isn’t it? These two people, who were afraid to support Jesus publicly while he was alive, can do so as soon as he is dead. All the cowardice, the hesitation, the prudent concealment are gone. Jesus has not been dead an hour, when his words reported by John (12:32) begin to come true: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” Jesus is already showing his risen power to be the magnet of souls.
·         In silence, let us meditate on how Jesus calls his disciples to himself, not just 2,000 years ago, but throughout the ages right down to our own time, where we as Christians are his living body, the Church.

As we meditate on this, let us pray together the Anima Christi, a C14th prayer translated from Latin:
Soul of Christ, sanctify me
Body of Christ, save me
Blood of Christ, refresh me
Water from the side of Christ, wash me
Passion of Christ, strengthen me
O good Jesu, hear me
Within Thy wounds hide me
Suffer me not to be separated from Thee
From the malicious enemy defend me
In the hour of my death call me
And bid me come to Thee
That with thy saints I may praise Thee 
For ever and ever. Amen.

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