How much pain? For how long? How much blood? How many layers of flesh removed by the lash? How heavy the beam he carried? How far the distance he walked? Between which sinews were the nails placed? How sharp the thorns? How precise the work of the spear? Tell me, was it death by suffocation or blood loss? Show me. Re-enact it. Film it. Paint it. Describe it in song lyric and sacred reading. Carve it in detail and hang it on a wall. Give me the sound, the smell, the spectacle of it. Take me back to those moments, and spare no effort to help me enter into the scene.
Because if I had just been there to see it I would understand - I would understand the extent of my sin and the miracle of the resurrection. Because if I could just register these images and speculations deeply enough in my psyche I might better celebrate the beauty of three-days-later.
But would I? Do I? Or shall I look beyond the suffering of skin, scalp, sinews, suffocation to the harder truth to which they point? Shall I look beyond the stock-in-trade of Good Friday observance, these CSI-worthy musings, capable of capturing only the smallest part of what transpired on the cross? For if I seek to internalize the suffering of Christ, surely I must look beneath the externals. If I seek to internalize the sufferings of Christ, surely I must look to his rejection.
Rejection. I have known it – I have known the visceral shock, the hot-and-cold nausea of learning that another human being believed me guilty of something I had not done, believed it to the core of their understanding, believed it to the exclusion of hearing any defense on my behalf. You hate me. You hate who you think I am. You wish me harm. You have passed your sentence on me. You will not change your mind.
Now it begins to come into view, what happened that day. It begins to, yes, if I extrapolate the depth of that pain, multiplied out to the nth degree. Rejection to the multi-billionth power. The Passion Play, seen through this lens, begins to feel flat. The crucifix above the altar begins to look like so much wood and pigment. As hard as I gaze, it does not speak of this weight, this crushing weight, so much greater than a timber across the back. As intently as I focus, it does not render the sting of this scourging lash, so much more brutal than a cat-of nine-tails.
But I am not there yet, no – my understanding is not yet as awakened as Good Friday demands. For in my limited experience of human rejection, on the day that my fellow man turns his gaze from me, the loving gaze of my Father does not waver. On the day that my fellow man pronounces me cursed, my Father still shouts that I am blessed. Blessed to the uttermost.
But not so, the Son. Not so, the sinless Son, rejected to the uttermost.
So my gaze is lifted to the great good of Good Friday: the Father’s face turned eternally toward me because it was turned from the Son. The sinner accepted, the sinless rejected. The punishment that brought me peace, no mere matter of thorn and nail. The curse that brought me blessing, no mere matter of blood and bone.
This Good Friday may the eyes of my body soberly acknowledge the blood and the nails. But may the eyes of my heart gaze on the rejection that secured my acceptance, and glory in the willing death that brought me life.