As I considered appropriate, meaningful ways to reflect on Jesus’ death today, Good Friday, one of the first things that came to mind was to watch the well-known Mel Gibson movie, The Passion of the Christ.
I remember when the movie first came out in 2004, theater-goers flocked to the film, and everyone I knew reported that they were deeply moved to tears after seeing such a realistic, graphic depiction of the crucifixion.
It was several years before I would see the film and experience for myself how it could evoke such emotion. The picture of Jesus, a real man, being murdered in such a brutal and bloody way was just gut-wrenching to watch.
Since then I’ve seen the movie just once more – last year on Good Friday. The effect was much the same. The images were difficult to watch. I wanted to wince, look away, cover my ears, even. Watching the movie was quite emotionally draining.
So this year as I consider whether to watch it, I have a couple of things in mind. First, can I stomach it? Even though it’s been a year, the emotional impact of watching it is still considerably fresh and easy to recall. Am I up for that again?
Also, if I watch it too many times, will I just become desensitized to it and lose my appreciation for the reality of the cross?
After all, it’s nothing for many of us to watch murder scenes in the latest Hollywood blockbusters without so much as a flinch. Do I really want to become that complacent about the image of my Savior being brutally murdered?
All over America, families are preparing for Easter Sunday with items that include chocolate bunnies, plastic eggs and that super annoying fake grass that will take until next Easter to finally stop surfacing in the wheels of the vacuum cleaner.
To be sure and include a little ‘Jesus’ in their Easter morning, many parents will be buying chocolate crosses instead of bunnies. Many of us also have purchased some type of cross, likely with pastel flowers, for Easter decor.
And there’s nothing wrong with any of that. I have done all of the above.
But this year, more than years before, I’ve come to realize just how inaccurate a depiction of the cross those representations are. The truth is, there was nothing flowery or pastel about the reality of the cross.
The reality is something that outside of the Mel Gibson movie, none of us can possibly put an image to, because we’ve never seen anything so gruesome.
A 1986 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association outlines the death of Christ from a medical perspective. The authors describe the details of the human experience of crucifixion, which for Jesus, began with the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane where scripture tells us He was sweating blood in anticipation of His brutal, cruel, merciless death.
So what we know is that Jesus was in severe mental anguish, enough anguish to induce the rare medical condition called hematidrosis. If you can imagine a moment in your life that you might describe as anguish, if you weren’t sweating blood, it can’t compare to what Jesus was feeling.
The article, which can be found online at http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/255/11/1455.full.pdf+html?sid=55b3078b-cd4d-444e-b8ed-e055de76fe28, discusses each ensuing scene leading up to Jesus’ death, including the Jewish and Roman trials, and the authors are even mindful to point out that His mental state was that of despondence, a man who was being spit on, ridiculed and abandoned by his friends.
The authors talked about the scourging leading up to the cross, which would have been performed with a whip made of several leather pieces containing small iron balls or sharp bone that would have torn at Jesus’ flesh, ‘producing quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh,’ bringing Jesus to a state ‘just short of collapse or death.’
This article goes in depth on the remaining details of the crucifixion, and I highly recommend you follow the link above to read it, rather than have me regurgitate it for you here.
If you’d rather skip further reading, this short clip from ‘The Passion’ is a good depiction not only of the real emotion, but also the physical realities of the cross.
As we prepare our hearts for Easter Sunday, resurrection Sunday, it’s only appropriate that we go beyond the bunnies and chocolate and acknowledge just what it looked like on Good Friday, the day that Jesus died a horrifying, excruciating death to save us from ourselves.