Saturday, 4 April 2015

The Easter Story: A bruised heel

Joseph of Arimathea looked at what was before him.

A corpse lay there broken, cut and bloodied. His face was stained red from the wounds to the head; his hair was matted and clotted. For the soldiers had placed a ring of thorns, a crown of scorn, and pushed it hard into his scalp. King of the Jews. They joked and mocked. They laughed as he was dying.

His lips were dry and chapped. It was these lips that had said so much that had brought so much hope. But in the end they could only utter a few words. Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani? My God, they cried, my God, why have you forsaken me? The words trembled and tumbled out of his mouth. The God that he had poured out prayers to the previous night, the God that declared him loved, the God that sent him had left him to die alone. This man had died so desperately alone.

A web of wounds covered his back. The skin and flesh had been torn and cut and split. Hues of crimson and black and blue ran into each other. The blood had set thick like scum: dark and dirtied. They had whipped him and lashed him until his back was nothing more than a net of gashes.

Then there were his hands. His wrists bore great holes, as thick as a finger. These were where the nails went, driven in with hammers, sending spasms of agony into the hands, forcing them clawed and bent. His feet too were pierced. The wounds here were gapping as the weight of the man caused the nails to dig and cut. Tendons and bones could be seen amongst the muck.

Joseph shock with the horror of it. This innocent man was now such a pitiful sight. A corpse looks so terribly small and so terribly sad. None so more as this.

But Joseph breathed a deep breath and roused himself to do what he had come for. He took strips of linen that he had bought. He began to wrap the cloth around the broken body. He covered the feet, the torso, the hands, the head. His shaking hands had to work quickly; it was nearly the Sabbath and it had to be done before then.

As the last strip covered the dead man's face, Joseph thought this would be the last time anyone would see the face of Jesus. His last words rang through Joseph's mind. It is finished.

(Mark 15; John 19)

I often wonder what went through the minds of the spectators as Jesus died, or how those who had known Jesus had felt. What was Peter feeling? Or John? Or Jesus' mother as she watched her loved son die. How much heartbreak was there that day?

The Bible does not tell us, so we can only attempt to imagine the grief, confusion and despair that this event brought to Jesus' loved ones. It does, however, tell us some of Jesus' feelings and thoughts.

Despite the great physical pain that Jesus encountered, little is said about his response to that. It was the emotional anguish of being separated from his heavenly father that the Bible reveals. Jesus had been cut off from the Lord's gaze. As his bloodied and broken body bore the sins of mankind, he was left to bear this burden alone. Jesus, in his deep pain, turns to the scripture that he knows and cries out "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" These are the words of such sorrow.

Yet, there was more that he had said. I wonder what the disciples made of his statement of triumph, "It is finished". Did they think it was a statement of defeat, declaring the end to Jesus' ministry and the promises he had given? But as Jesus' lifeless body was removed from the cross, they must have thought about how it had come to such a sudden and brutal end.

Of course, we now know that it was just the beginning.

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