‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say – “Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour’John 12:27
Jesus knows what lies ahead.
Killing in modern times has become very distant, very clinical.Cruise missiles fired from submarines hidden below the ocean; bombs dropped from Stealth jets where a computer does all the work and where the target might be out of sight;even infantrymen with weapons so sophisticated that they would probably only meet their enemies when the enemy had surrendered; killing is much different.
Killing in wartime has changed completely – it’s an electronic game now where targets are no more than dots on a screen and attacking them demands no more than pressing a button.
Yet despite all the advances in warfare that make it a very impersonal activity, executions remain an intensely personal affair.In the United States, where they carry out execution by lethal injection, someone has to strap the prisoner to the trolley; someone has to insert the intravenous tube; someone has to switch on the supply of the lethal chemical; someone has to oversee this whole process to ensure that the prisoner is dead.Execution is a dirty business in which people know what they are doing.
Jesus knows what lies ahead
In Jesus’ time the work of execution was even dirtier.Crucifixion was a death which came through slow suffocation – hanging with your two arms stretched out so that you are unable to breathe and you die from gradual asphyxiation.
Crucifixion was hideously cruel.The victims hands would have been lashed to the cross beam with ropes around his wrists; simply using nails would have not worked, the flesh would have torn and the victim would have fallen from the cross.The nails were just an additional torture, a way of further weakening the victim and hastening death.If a person took a long time to die it would have been the practice to break their legs, this would have caused extra weight to be borne by their arms, making it harder for them to breathe and causing them to suffocate more quickly.Sometimes, a spear would have been used to ensure the person was quite dead.
It is ghastly to think about such things. This is not a pleasant picture of Jesus; this is not like the storybook pictures we grew up with.But Christianity is not a pleasant faith.Christianity is based on the scandalous idea that God should come to die for us, Christianity is based on what Saint Paul calls foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block, or, to use the original word, a scandal, to the Jews.
Jesus knows what lies ahead.
It was a routine task for those who carried out the hideous deed of crucifixion, but with Jesus there must have been a sense that this was something different.
We know nothing whatsoever about the executioners.We know nothing about those who held the weak and bleeding Jesus against the cross, stretching out his arms, prising open his fingers before hammering nails through his hands.
They had nothing against Jesus, they had probably never heard of him.But they would have avoided looking into his eyes.They would have concentrated on their work, on his hands and his feet.They had to forget the person; they had to avoid speaking to him, if there was any thought about what they were doing, they would never have got their job done.
Jesus’ eyes certainly had to be avoided – eyes that could look deep into your soul – eyes that could look at you and be able to see everything you had ever done.To have crucified Jesus would have taken a great effort of will.Romans were intensely superstitious people, and there would have been a sense that something very dark was happening.
Victims of crucifixion usually shouted and screamed and struggled, several men would have been needed to hold them down.Jesus was different.The nameless men who executed Jesus would have sensed something different, instead of fear and hatred there is a profound and terrible sorrow in him.
In those moments on that Friday morning, there would have been a strange feeling, a feeling that time had stopped, that they were outside of time.It would have felt as though they were hammering in those nails not just at that moment, a Friday the fourteenth day of the Jewish month Nisan, but at every moment through the ages.
There would have been a shiver up the spine.It was a hot and dry spring day, but there would have been a sense of a physical coldness, a sense that there were powers at work beyond their comprehension.Something was taken place that was far beyond the understanding and it would have been frightening.
As they carry out their grisly duties, the executioners are not assailed by curses and insults, but instead Jesus says, âFather, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’.
The men would have grabbed the cross and heaved it into place, and again there would have been a strange feeling.A tightening of breath; a pain in the heart; a voice on the wind; a half-remembered thought from some dim and distant past; somewhere at the edge of conscious thought, a feeling of a chill uneasiness.
The executioners would have been afraid, hard men suddenly nervous and jumpy.There would have been no chat amongst them, no laughter as they went back to their barracks – just a gnawing, nagging feeling that this had been a bad day’s work.
Jesus knows what lies ahead, but he doesn’t flinch from it, in today’s Gospel he makes it clear,
âNow my soul is troubled. And what should I say – “Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hourâ?