Today's reflection comes from Rev Stella Hayton
Let there be an up-rising of Christ – crushed, crucified, entombed.
Let the earth crack. Let stones be rolled away.
Let the dawn push back the blanket of the night.
Let the trumpets sound. Let flowers open.
For we welcome the One who affirms life!
Let there be an up-rising of God’s little ones – dispossessed, outcast, silenced.
Let their land be given back to them. Let the stones that blocked their liberty be rolled away.
Let their stubborn hopes for tomorrow re-shape the dark realities of today.
Let their own stories be heard. Let our ears and hearts be opened to them.
For their struggles reveal the One who affirms life.
(Kate Compston in “Seasons and Celebrations”)
Matthew 27: 32 – 37 [but see also Mark 15: 21 – 28, Luke 23: 26 – 34; John 19: 17 – 22]
32As they were on the way, they came across a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, and they forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. 33Then they went out to a place called Golgotha (which means Skull Hill). 34The soldiers gave him wine mixed with bitter gall, but when he had tasted it, he refused to drink it.
35After they had nailed him to the cross, the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice. 36Then they sat around and kept guard as he hung there. 37A signboard was fastened to the cross above Jesus’ head, announcing the charge against him. It read: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”
Easter is here, and we are celebrating resurrection, sermons are being preached about Jesus appearing to his disciples, and proving who he is by showing his wounds, or proving that he’s alive by eating broiled fish. As Christians we know in the depths of our very being that Jesus is alive. But this time last week, on Good Friday, we were thinking about his death on the cross.
But strangely enough, for all the detail the four gospels give us about Jesus’s crucifixion, we don’t really know all that much about it.
For example, what shape was the cross? Traditionally we think of the shape above – although I’ve read accounts by historians who suggested that it was rather more tau-shaped.
But last Friday I watched part of a programme on a channel from the depths of the Freeview menu, presented by Robert Powell, the actor who portrayed Jesus in the film “Jesus of Nazareth” in 1977. In it he was talking to historians and archaeologists, specialists in the Holy Land of the first century, one of whom had excavated an ossuary contained the arm and leg bones of a person crucified at around the time of Christ. From the bones he could tell that our image of crucifixion is lacking in some details, because each foot was secured separately by a nail, and he suggested that it was more likely that the cross would have been more similar to the saltire, often known as the St Andrew’s cross (below).
It’s an intriguing thought; none of the gospel writers thought to describe the cross, because it was too well known – part of the familiar repertoire of criminal punishment of the Roman Empire – just think of the film “Spartacus”. And because it was so well known, we don’t really know much about it.
Does it matter? Possibly not, because it doesn’t change the central fact – that Jesus died on the cross, was buried and rose to new life – so that we could live with him forevermore. And yet, it does beg the question, what else is there that is so well known, so familiar that we don’t really know (or do) anything about it?
- We know that children need to be fed every day – and yet it took a young footballer to point out to the government that families reliant on free school meals in normal times would struggle during lockdown.
- We know that too many women face violence and abuse – but it took the killing of Sara Everard to raise the question of how we can work for safer communities where people don’t need to be afraid of being attacked.
- We know that many people have been working from home during lockdown, and so some companies will be looking to reduce the amount of time their staff spend in the office, which will have an impact on hospitality businesses and shops relying on commuter trade …
- We know that we face a climate crisis around the world, and that our priorities need to change to build a safer, more sustainable future …
- We know that some people have being suffering from feelings of isolation, loneliness and depression during the pandemic, but that it’s going to be a while before we can go back to our old ways of offering support, activities or hospitality …
- We know … but we need to find ways to listen … and to learn what “everybody knows” (but we may not have noticed), and to hear too about their hopes, their struggles, their ideas … and to work together using all the skills and resources we have available so that the central message of the cross, the new life Jesus bring us, can not just be known about but lived … to the full.