“Father Forgive them for they know not what they do”
As the Christians the world over celebrate the resurrection of Christ in the back drop of the ravages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, for all peace loving citizens of Sri Lanka very specially for Catholics and Christians, despite the stupendous joy that the significance of the day evokes, in addition to the burden of having to encounter the inconvenience of living with the COVID -19 Pandemic, it will also be a day tinged with sadness as it will bring back bitter memories of the carnage that was wrecked on this sacred day 2 years ago,(21.4.19 to be precise) by the foolish act of some misguided religious extremist due to which a large number of our brothers and sisters lost their lives. Some were permanently maimed and disabled, and some others left destitute, mentally, physically and emotionally scarred for life.
"One more important thing to think about is that no one took the life of Jesus - He laid it down on his own accord for the people"
Christ’s Agony which commenced in the Garden of Gethsemane with the prayer of agony, was progressively intensified as a result of the betrayal by Judas, denial by Peter, abandonment by his apostles, his unjust condemnation by Pontius Pilate, the brutal scourging, crowning with thorns and mal treatment at the hands of the soldiers, carrying of the cross to Calvary and culminating in His excruciating death. Death on a Cross “Pilate asked them shall I crucify your King? The Chief Priests answered we have no King but the Emperor. Then he handed Him over to be crucified… when Jesus had received the wine He said “it is finished”, then He bowed His head and gave up His Spirit” (John 19:16, 28-30.) The cross, comprised of wooden timbers and iron spikes, was the gas chamber or electric chair of the first century. It originated as a means of maximum torture. First used by the Persians, Phoenicians and Carthaginians, and then adopted by the Romans, the cross was a grim instrument of death. One word could describe the experience of those who died by crucifixion: agony. Among other things, it was humiliating, tormenting, slow, public, and always terminal. Because the Jews of the first century lived under Roman rule, criminals declared guilty of capital crimes were crucified. In our moments together, let us follow the painful ritual through which our Savior passed - from the courts of Pilate to the cross on Golgotha.
His weapon was a flagellum, an instrument made of a short wooden handle to which were attached long strips of leather with bits of bone and metal sewn to the tips. The victim was stripped of all his clothing and bent over a low stone column, where he was tied with his face toward the floor. The normal sentence was 40 stripes, minus one for humanitarian purposes. I believe Jesus took all forty of them. Mocking by the soldiers (Matt. 27:27-31). In the Praetorium, Jesus stood before the soldiers naked; His body was a mass of swollen, bruised, and bloodied flesh. As the whole Roman cohort surrounded Him, they decided that if He was a king, then He should have a scepter, robe, and a crown. The scepter was a reed taken from a local plant; His robe came scarcely to His elbows; His crown was made of thorns measuring from 3/4 inch to 3 ½ inches in length. They sarcastically hailed Him “king of the Jews,” spitting on Him and beating Him about the head with a reed. In all this, He never reviled in return.
Around the person’s neck was draped a small sign naming his crime. The victim carried his own cross (i.e., the crossbeam) to the place of execution. Waiting at the death site was the vertical timber to which his crossbeam would be attached. Nailing to the cross (John 19:18, 23a). This is the most hideous part of the episode. The victim was placed on his back with arms outstretched, and was mounted on the cross before it was placed in its upright position. To hold the person in place, the soldiers drove large iron spikes into the feet and wrists.
We will perhaps never hang on a cross. However, take away some of our basic rights that we personally enjoy, and we soon become very irritable....even resentful and hostile. “After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled, said, ‘I am thirsty.’”(John 19:28.Isaiah 53) describes the picture of Christ on the cross as neither pretty nor palatable. It was never intended to be. Making Him appear beautiful, clothed, with a heavenly glow wrapped around His head, is only to cheapen reality. He hung for six hours between heaven and earth, limp, thin and bony; hollow-eyed and haggard, desolate and completely naked in His humiliation. While Jesus was agonising on the Cross the Evangelists who authored the Sacred Scriptures report that He spoke seven words the first of which was “Father Forgive them for they know not what they do” as surprising as they would have been to the Roman Soldiers, who brutally drove the nails into his body and pierced His side with a Lance, these words should not be a shock to us readers of the Gospels for this epitomises in action what exactly he has been preaching about from the beginning of His public ministry –“Love your enemies, Pray for those who persecute you” and in the prayer he taught his apostles when they asked him to teach them how to pray, the prayer which we have come to know as the Lord’s Prayer also referred to as the Our Father contains the first of the seven words He spoke from the cross “Forgive those who trespass against us, as we forgive them who trespass against us” now Jesus himself gives a powerful concrete example of what He Himself taught and finally breathing his last with the words, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” (Luke 23:46). One more important thing to think about is that no one took the life of Jesus - He laid it down on his own accord for the people. The veil of the temple was the curtain that blocked the entrance to the most holy place (Exodus 26:33, Hebrews 9:3). When Jesus died, the veil of the temple was torn from top to bottom, which signified that the way into God’s presence was now open to all through a new and living way - Jesus (Hebrews 10:19-22). The fact that it tore from top to bottom showed that no man had split the veil, but God did it. Matthew 27:54 Joseph, a rich man from Arimathea, went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be given to him. They laid the body in Joseph’s own tomb which had been carved out of rock. Then it was sealed by the Roman guards.
"It will also be a day tinged with sadness as it will bring back bitter memories of the carnage that was wrecked on this sacred day 2 years ago"
The ecstasy of the resurrection – The background to the words spoken by our Blessed Lord “I am the Resurrection and the Life” was reported in the Gospel of St. John 11:25 taken from an incident which happened about a week before He was to undergo his passion and death, which pertains to the raising of Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary from the dead. Jesus received an urgent summons from Martha and Mary of Bethany the contents of the message that was conveyed to our Blessed Lord said that their brother Lazarus, the Lord loved, was seriously sick and was at the point of death. When our Blessed Lord arrived at Bethany, Lazarus had already been buried for four days. When the news reached of the arrival of Jesus, Martha rose up and went out to meet Him and Mary remained behind at home. Martha who though having some confidence in the power of the Lord, it was nevertheless, still very limited, lamented saying “If thou hadst been here my brother would not have died.” When our Blessed Lord spoke reassuringly that her brother would rise again, Martha acknowledged that he would rise in the general Resurrection on the last day. Though believing in the resurrection as would most of the Jews, with the exception of the Sadducees, she did not know that the resurrection was standing before her. Jesus said to her “I am the resurrection and the Life” a premonition to His own death and resurrection. He went to the tomb where Lazarus was laid and having commanded that the stone which covered the entrance to the tomb be removed, He cried in a loud voice saying “Lazarus come out” and Lazarus came forth from the tomb, with the grave clothes wrapped about him. The empty tomb of Lazarus provoked to give Him a Cross; but he in return would give up the cross for the empty tomb.
The angel who spoke sent them to find Peter and the disciples to report that Jesus had risen (Matt. 28:7-8, Mark 16:7-8). The disciples were skeptical at first (John 20:4), but ran to where the tomb was, John arriving first, but Peter actually entering the tomb first (John 20:4- 6). They saw the linen wrappings intact but empty, proof that Jesus was raised. Scripture describes at least ten distinct appearances of Christ between the resurrection and ascension. Hallelujah!!
I close with a quote from my favourite exegetical exponent of the Word of God - Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s classic work the “Life of Christ.” In the history of the world only one tomb that ever had a rock rolled before it and sealed, and a soldier guard set to watch it to prevent the dead man within from rising: That was the tomb of Christ on the evening of Friday that was called Good. But sentinels were set lest the dead walk, the silent speak and the pierced heart quicken to the throb of life. To an angel His resurrection would not be a mystery but His death would be.The Angel’s words were the first Gospel preached after the resurrection “here is the place where they laid him” – Earth’s most serious wound the Empty Tomb. “If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation St. Paul tells us (2 Cor 5:17) the old order has passed away, now all is new” The Lord is Risen Indeed Alleluia!.
Happy Easter to all the dear readers.