The cross today means something very different from what it was known for during Roman times. The years of Christian Church history and tradition have made it into a Christian icon, and with the wash of that ideology over our hearts and minds, much of its meaning is lost to us. For the Western mind, crucifixion and the tortures that it encompassed are almost incomprehensible. We rightly associate it with Christ, but we often forget what it took for Him to be crucified.
The punishment of crucifixion often began long before the cross. It was customary to flog a criminal 39 times, but the Romans were known to do more. Jesus would have been hit with a whip made of braided leather thongs and metal balls. The balls from the whip produced deep bruising in His flesh that after repeated blows would break open. At the ends of the whip pieces of bone would attach themselves to the flesh of the back and shred the skin – in many cases exposing the victim’s bone. This mass of bleeding flesh would have extended from the shoulders to the back of the legs. For some the punishment ended at the flogging. Some never made it to the cross.
But Jesus did.
Having carried the crossbeam to the place of Calvary, blood dripping from the gaping wounds of His back, Jesus would have been laid down, his arms pulled apart six inches in length dislocating his shoulders, and his wrists nailed to the crossbeam by five to seven inch spikes. The nerve that was pierced during crucifixion produced such pain, that a new word had to be invented because nothing up to that point in time could describe what it felt like to endure the cross. The word that was created, “excruciating,” literally means “out of the cross.”
From the ground Jesus would have been hoisted by ropes attached to the crossbeam acting as pulleys to fix Him to the vertical beam already staked in the ground. His feet would have been nailed to the cross by spikes similar to those driven into His hands. At this point, after the torture already endured, Christ would have been left to die by asphyxiation. In order to exhale, He would have had to push up on the spikes driven into His feet. When the pain overwhelmed Him, He hung from His wrists. This cycle of pushing up and hanging from the spikes impaling His body to the cross continued until it was impossible for Him to push up one more time . . . and then His heart stopped beating.
NARRATOR extinguishes candle.
The cross that we so revere began not as an icon for faith or hope, but as an icon of shame, torture, humiliation, and inescapable death. The reason it holds such importance to us is neither the gore, nor the glory that it has been known for throughout the ages, but Who was there crucified, and for whom He was crucified.