After Palm Sunday
Perhaps not surprising for this week, I’ve been re-reading the events of Jesus’ death, always painful. Good Friday, we read in John’s account, was the day of Preparation for the following day, which was a special Sabbath, because it was the one that fell within the Passover Week of celebration. Because the Jews didn’t want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken, which would hasten death, because the victim then couldn’t put weight on his legs to try and expand his lungs, so breathing became exceedingly difficult. So the soldiers broke the legs of the two men, one each side of Jesus, but when they came to him, finding him already dead, instead of breaking his legs, pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, resulting in a sudden flow of blood and water from the cavity. We now know that this was the result of the spear piercing the pericardium, the sac that surrounds the heart, which produced a watery fluid, and blood from the heart itself.
We don’t know whether the soldiers were just making doubly sure Jesus was dead, or perhaps it was simply an act of brutality, but it was certainly not the norm. But here’s the thing: about 700yrs before Jesus’ death, the prophet Isaiah spoke of a man of sorrows who would be “pierced for our transgressions…crushed for our iniquities” (53:5), and about 500yrs before, Zechariah prophesied that the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem would one day mourn for the one they had pierced (12:10) And interesting to note that about 1,000yrs before, David wrote Psalm 22, uncannily fitted to Jesus’ crucifixion, that says “they have pierced my hands and my feet” – long before any Roman occupation or crucifixions. In Jn.19:36-37 John is at pains to explain God’s overruling in the fulfillment of scripture “not one of his bones will be broken” (Ps.34:20) It was extraordinary that Jesus was the only one of the three whose legs were not broken, and that he suffered an unusual spear thrust that did not break a bone.
When Moses was given the original instructions for that very 1st Passover meal, eaten almost on the hoof during the Exodus, as God led his people out of Egypt, God told him they were to remember and celebrate it yearly for the generations to come. One of the requirements was that the sacrificial lamb was to have no bones broken. In 1 Cor.5:7 Paul talks of “Christ, our Passover Lamb” – with every bone intact.
Horrid as it is, thinking of all the details of Jesus’s suffering out of love for us, what this all helps me know is that his death was not random; his life was not stolen from him – he ‘gave up his spirit’; ‘for the joy that was set before him he endured the cross’; ‘I lay down my life…noone takes it from me’. The 1st of Jesus’ miracles was turning the water into wine at the wedding in Cana – do you remember him saying to his mother “My time has not yet come”? From that time onwards, Jesus moved inevitably towards the destiny for which he had come, until, after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which the Church calls Palm Sunday and celebrated yesterday, Jesus announces that his time has now come – the time to which everything else has led, when the grain of wheat has to fall to the ground and die – the hour when “the Son of Man is to be glorified”. Many times in the gospels, we see the Jewish people trying to kill Jesus by seizing him, stoning him or pushing him over a cliff, but it wasn’t his time on any of those occasions, and he just slipped through the crowd each time out of their grasp. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus considered praying for his Father to save him from the terrible death to come, but refused to do so, because the very reason he had come was to die – his death would be no accident or catastrophic events sweeping him away. Even Pilate didn’t have the ultimate power and authority over Jesus, only that given him by God (Jn.19:11)
So let’s take heart that our time too is in God’s hands, it’s not chaotically out of control – let’s face walking again with Jesus through the events leading up to Good Friday during the next few days, bringing our own Gethsemanes and good fridays with us, knowing that resurrection is coming; it’s nearly Easter Sunday!