I was asked to lead some folks at our church in two reflections during the Lenten season this year at a local park. Here they are:
What did it mean to be crucified? Crucifixion was a form of capital punishment that was normally reserved for enemies of the state or people who had engaged in terrorism or revolts of one kind or another. It was cruel and painful. People were attached to crosses via ropes or nails, such as in the case of Jesus, and then hoisted up in the air and placed into a slot in the ground that held the cross up.
Crucifixion caused a massive amount of pain. Normally a prisoner, such as Jesus, would have been beaten and whipped prior to being placed on the cross, which meant that his body, especially his back, would be full of open wounds. So not only did the nails in the wrists and ankles hurt beyond imagining, every time Jesus tried to relieve the pain in his wrists or ankles he scraped his injured back against the rough wood of the cross.
But the way that crucifixion killed people was by making it hard to breathe. The angle of the arms and upper torso, along with the tiredness of the prisoner, would result in there being great difficulty and pain with each breath. Eventually the prisoner would have to push up on the nails in his ankles and pull at the nails in his wrists to breathe more easily. Over time, this became more and more difficult. Depending on the prisoner, this form of execution could take as little as an hour or as much as a day or more. In other words, Jesus was in great agony as he hung on the cross for us.
But here’s the real kicker for me, Jesus chose this pain. Jesus chose this agony. He chose to be executed by the same method as a terrorist. Why? Because he loved us and wanted to pave a way for us to have a relationship with the Father. Since the penalty for sin is death, someone had to pay that penalty. And since we could not pay that penalty and live with the Father forever, someone special had to take our place – someone who was like us in every way and someone who had the authority and power to defeat death. There has only been one person like that in the history of the universe. His name is Jesus. And he loved us enough to die for our sins!
Why are we at Central Park? What is so special about this place? Well, for me, Central Park represents what it means to live in light of Jesus being crucified.
Everyday this park is filled with various people. There are parents here with their children at the playground. There are professionals who eat here at the park every day at lunchtime. There are folks who come here to exercise. And then each night different areas of this park are occupied by some of Pasadena’s homeless population. In other words, Central Park represents a really accurate cross-section of the people of Pasadena – the rich and the poor, those in community and those who are alone, those with jobs and some without.
People. People like you and like me. And all of the people who come to this park each day are people created in the image of God, people for whom Jesus died. In other words, the people that this park represents are valuable beyond belief! God made them and imbued them with life. That alone makes each and every one of them special! But since Jesus died for each of them, the value of their lives goes up exponentially. The way to know what something is worth is by examining the price that is paid for it. Well, what is a human life worth then? Since Jesus paid for each of these lives using the most precious commodity know to humanity – himself – the worth of each person cannot be adequately measured! It is off the charts!
What should that mean for our lives now? It’s not enough for us simply to reflect on what Jesus did for us on the cross and then go home. No. What Jesus did for us on the cross should impact the way we live! If it’s true that each life is made even more valuable thanks to Jesus’ sacrifice, then the way we treat each and every person should be different.
We should treat each person with deep respect and kindness. We should be less focused on ourselves and more focused on how to serve one another. We should stop viewing people as extras, as human props, in the story of our lives. We should strive with all we are to share the good news with the people we encounter, especially those that we see and interact with all the time!
But not only that, the fact that Jesus’ death brings value to each person should also move us to care for those in distress, whether emotional, spiritual, physical, financial, etc. How could we, with a clean conscience, sit back and enjoy the benefits of God’s blessings while we know that there are people suffering in our world?
Friends, living in light of the crucifixion means living like Jesus did. And how did he live? He lived for the benefit of others. Brothers and sisters, let us go and do likewise!
So, when you think of Jesus’ crucifixion, what do you deem worthy of reflection?