The Bishop’s Easter Message
IF YOU VISIT JERUSALEM TODAY to trace the footsteps of Jesus on the Via Dolorosa and other places, it is diﬃcult to ignore the physical and psychological torture that Jesus endured before He was strung on the cross. One such place is the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu. The Latin word “Gallicantu” means “cock crowing”, and immediately brings to mind Peter’s cowardly denial of Jesus and dissociation from Him at His most painful trial.
This church is built over what is believed to be the stately house of Caiaphas during the time of Jesus. It was to this place that Jesus, who was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, was brought to be tried by the high priest. Caiaphas was the high priest, and in his house gathered the small-minded men of the Sanhedrin, eager to get rid of their perceived competitor.
If you go down some steps in the church, you would arrive at an ancient dungeon where it is believed Jesus was held in prison until his adversaries made up their minds concerning how to get rid of Him. The dungeon has some depressions on an overhead piece of rock where they say the hands of Jesus could have been locked into metal rings so that he could be beaten by the guards.
The descriptions in the Bible jolt our imagination: “Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists.
Others slapped him …” “The men who were guarding Jesus began mocking and beating him … they blindfolded him … they said many other insulting things to him.” (Mt. 26:67; Lk. 22:63-65).
Imagine the Lord forced to stand up the whole night, His bruised hands stuck in the metal rings, His face and back bleeding, His eyes swollen – all alone in the dark dungeon, without food and water, while His tormentors went to sleep. The Creator of the universe bloodied and imprisoned in His own ungrateful and violent world. Anyone who takes time to stand in that deplorable dungeon cannot escape the pain and the humiliation, the suﬀering and the sheer injustice the Lord endured.
Who can stand there and not be amazed and tongue-tied in the face of such deep mystery and profound love, at the sight of the Creator stomped by the boots of those He had created, slapped by the hands of those He had fed, beaten cruelly by those He had carefully and lovingly crafted in their mothers’ wombs?
The problem is that most people dare not look at the sight or don’t want to look at it. Why do you think they place a hood on someone who is about to be hanged? It is diﬃcult to look at a person who is dying, or one who is being killed mercilessly. Why do you think the guards blindfolded Jesus as they began beating him? Of course, we could say that they were playing a cruel game of “Guess who hit you” with Jesus. But does it not point to the fact that they did not want to look at the eyes of Jesus.
To blindfold someone or to put a hood on someone is to remove the face and to treat the person as less than human, to reduce people to things or ideas. It is easier to be cruel to someone whose face you hide from yourself.
Paintings of the scene of crucifixion usually depict a tall cross, which was not what it was like in the time of Jesus. The cross was deliberately kept short, where the person hanging on it was intentionally kept at eye level. The intention of the Romans was to frighten and terrorise their subjects, but they probably had mixed success in this. People did not like to look at the faces of the crucified and to acknowledge they were human. How much more, then, to acknowledge Jesus as God? Only a few did, those whose eyes met the eyes of Jesus on the cross. Yes, “the people stood watching” (Lk 23:35) but we wonder what they actually saw. Whatever it was, the cross and its occupant were only talking points for them. They did not have any redemptive impact on them. Notice that they talked among themselves (about Jesus) rather than to Jesus. e eyes of their hearts were closed to Him, for to really look at Him would have been a very diﬃcult thing to do. For the passers-by it was a time to mock the victim and shake their heads in self-righteous judgement (Mt. 27:39-40). They read the board on the cross ( is is Jesus, the King of the Jews) but it did not make any diﬀerence to them. They spoke to an idea, a faceless victim of circumstances but refused to really look into His eyes. And so, they walked away unredeemed, trapped in their own prisons.
WHAT ABOUT US? Do we sanitise the cross and remove from it all the pain that the Lord endured? We can smoothen it with clinical care, or worse, even put in a few diamonds or plate it with gold, and thus remove all traces of the pain and death it represents. We are too quick to remove the wounded and helpless figure on the cross so that we do not need to look at His face or meet His eyes, thus avoiding having to find our guilt. We are ready to discuss all the theories about what happened on the cross and the technical details of how He died, but refuse to look into His eyes.
If we stand there and look deeply, and feel the profound pain and really appreciate the sacrifice of divine love, then we would be ready to deeply celebrate the Resurrection of the One who was cruelly beaten, stripped and humiliated on the cross. To reduce the death of Jesus to an idea is to miss the depth of His suﬀering, and to deny His incarnation in human flesh. But to appreciate what He endured in the flesh (as well as in His soul) is to be ready to experience the new life of Easter. May God open the eyes of our heart (Eph. 1:18) to see Jesus of Nazareth face to face
– painfully crucified and gloriously risen.
HIS DIVINE LOVE
‘If we look deeply, and feel the profound pain and really appreciate the sacrifice of divine love, then we would be ready to deeply celebrate the Resurrection of the One who was cruelly beaten, stripped and humiliated on the cross.’