Jesus has finally completed His torturous journey from Pontius Pilate’s praetorium to His destination at the top of Calvary. No human being could have survived this journey and it was only by virtue of His divine nature that He was able to do so. Now we will reflect on the last four stations that mark His final sacrifice for us.
Jesus is Nailed to the Cross
The Roman method of execution by crucifixion was a particularly cruel one. It was meant to shame and humiliate the victim, which served as a deterrent for others and was reserved for slaves, enemies of the state, and particularly notorious criminals. The word “excruciating” comes from the Latin word excruciare which means “as painful as a crucifixion” or “from/out of the cross.” This was the worst and most painful possible way for a person to die. The Roman soldiers who were charged with the task of crucifixion must have been very callous and desensitized men to be able to carry out the task of nailing any person to a cross. But to do it to Jesus, in His excessively tortured body, was a higher level of heinousness.
Yet, even as the soldiers nailed His limbs to the wood, Jesus loved them and was enduring it for them. While the crowd stood around jeering at Him, He loved them. As the nails pierced His flesh, He was thinking about you and me with nothing but love and a burning desire that we accept His sacrifice for us so that we may eventually join Him in Paradise. This station marks the moment in history when the most selfless act of love that has ever, or will ever occur, happened – and it was for you. Consider a time in your life where you have characterized your pain – physical or emotional – as “excruciating.” Sit with Jesus in this moment and join that pain to His. Allow Him to heal you with His divine strength, understanding how much He loves you.
Jesus Dies on the Cross
I do not have the space here to discuss everything Jesus spoke from His cross, but He said some very profound things as He was dying. In His final moments, He asked that everyone present be forgiven for the actions because of how truly blind they were to what they were doing. How clouded we all can be in our own actions. Even the most well-formed consciences suffer from influences that cause confusion and erroneous justification. Jesus knows the sources of our sin and our weakness against them, and therefore, cries out for our forgiveness despite our futile attempts at resistance. Forgiveness in this moment illustrates the depth of love He has for each of us. He forgave the good thief and promised to bring Him to heaven. This moment of compassion shows us that we can always repent of our sins – even at the very last moment – and still be enveloped in His divine mercy. The good thief is receiving the gift that Jesus is pouring out for each of us in the precise moment He is completing it. Because we have the benefit of knowing all of this now in a way the thief did not, we should not wait until the last moment, but repent as often as necessary to receive His mercy. Jesus also gifted all of us, represented in Scripture by His disciple John, a perfect mother in His own Blessed Mother, as she stood at the foot of the cross, watching Him suffer. Mary is our model of perfect devotion to our Savior, Jesus. She never leaves Him and always directs us to Him. Let us heed the words of St. Maximilian Kolbe, “Never be afraid of loving the Blessed Virgin too much. You can never love her more than Jesus did.” Up to the moment of His very last breath, He was thinking of each of us.
Jesus is Taken Down from the Cross
Although in a state of immense grief, Jesus’ mother and followers must have also found this moment to be one of immense relief. His suffering had finally come to an end and His physical body was released from its instrument of torture. There would be no more whips or nails, no more mockery or humiliation. His open flesh could feel no more pain and the crown of thorns could be removed from His bloody head. His body was finally completely at rest. He was immediately laid into the arms of His loving and devoted mother, where she could finally hold her baby boy the same way she held Him when He came into the world. She could kiss Him and know, with complete faith, that according to God’s great plan, everything would be fine. We all carry and hang on our own crosses every day, experiencing pain and brokenness because of sin. Perhaps we can, if only for very brief moments, surrender our bodies and souls, go limp, and allow ourselves to be released from the pain. We can figuratively be released and placed into our loving mother and father’s arms, allow ourselves to be kissed and told that everything will, in fact, be alright. We can trust in faith because of what Jesus has done for us in order to make it all ok in the end. Practice these moments of complete surrender as often as possible and experience the relief Jesus felt in this moment.
Jesus is Laid in the Sepulcher
After everything Jesus had been through, this was the time for His body to finally be cared for as it deserved. The blood and dirt could finally be washed from His body. His wounds were cleaned, anointed, and dressed. The dignity that was stripped from Him was able to be restored with kind and loving hands. Joseph of Arimathea offered up his own tomb for Jesus to be laid in. It was a small gesture of self-sacrifice for what Jesus had endured, but even this small sacrifice carried so much justice with it. In the same way, every act of sacrifice we make for Jesus, not matter how small, restores a bit of justice in reparation for the injustice He endured for us. When the stone was rolled over to close off the tomb, Jesus’ body was finally fully at rest. It was dark and quiet, and He was safe from any more harm. However, it was in this same moment of peace for Jesus that His followers were sent into a period of confusion and fear. Jesus had come to save them, but now He was dead and entombed. He was not supposed to leave them, and they were unsure of what to do next. Without foreknowledge of the Resurrection, this would have been a terrifying situation. They had spent years following this man in faith and suddenly found themselves without hope, especially fearing they might be the next ones to suffer the same fate. We, however, know the rest of the story. Therefore, in our own moments of fear and confusion, rather than succumbing to them, we ought to rest in the hope of what is to come.
This concludes our reflection series on the Way of the Cross. My hope is that it drew you more deeply into the love Christ has for you. For Palm Sunday next week, we’ll delve into what led up to these events.