Hanging on a cross, the weight of the body drags the chest and shoulders down. The arms become extended in such a way that breathing becomes impossible. To breathe, the legs need to take the weight of the body by pushing against the nails in the ankles and hold up the body so the chest can take in a breath of air. Every breath is full of ‘excruciating’ pain as the legs lift the body to gasp for another breath.
What is more, this action required to breathe is involuntary. Our bodies are hard-wired to breathe (just try holding your breath and see what happens), so despite the unbearable pain after the body has sagged and breath has gone, the body moves into survival mode forcing the legs to straighten to again draw breath. This process repeats itself time after time, and hour after hour. Sometimes it takes days for the crucified to die.
In our lead up to Easter at Hobart Baptist, we are in the midst of a series on “The Seven Sayings of Christ from the Cross”. These seven final statements of Jesus were made during his hours on the cross while undergoing death by crucifixion. Each statement is short, only a sentence long, clearly because they were made in excruciating pain as his legs lifted him again to take another breath.
These sayings, held dear by followers of Christ through the centuries, give us a glimpse not only into the depth of his suffering but also into the depth of his love and commitment to complete the task he was given. They reveal his heart and ministry to each of us.
Although we can’t be certain of the exact order of each saying, we can estimate given what is said in the Gospels, an approximate order.
- Luke 23:34,“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
- Luke 23:43, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with me in Paradise.”
- John 19:26-27, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!”
- Matthew 27:46, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” That is, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
- John 19:28, “I am thirsty.”
- John 19:30, “It is finished!”
- Luke 23:46, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
I trust your reflections on these seven powerful statements will deepen your faith, strengthen your commitment and encourage your heart.
Stephen L Baxter