Traditional Site of Calvary. Photo credit Katie Marsh, 2018.
Last spring we were privileged to visit the Holy Land, courtesy of some kind friends who paid for the tour. The highlight for us was visiting the traditional site of Calvary.
We were surprised at what we saw. While the general public isn’t allowed on top of the actual hill of Calvary, it wasn’t anything like the green, grassy slope we envisioned from artists’ renditions. No, the hill of Calvary was barren, an outcropping of rock on top of a rock face that really did resemble a human skull.
More surprising yet was the fact that as we stood at the site and looked below and to our right, there was a bus station. A modern bus station, carrying on business as usual, stood next to a Christian holy site.
Wasn’t that what it was like the day Jesus was crucified? How many in Jerusalem that day realized the significance of what was happening when “just another criminal” (in their thinking) was being led to his death after a tortuous beating?
If a person delves into the humiliation of Roman punishment in Christ’s day, it becomes a misnomer that today we use crosses as jewelry and wall decorations.
There was nothing charming or beautiful about the rough, splintered wooden beams which held mutilated bodies of humanity aloft to be ridiculed by the masses. Crosses were a symbol of shame and degradation, occupied by the lowest of humanity.
From a medical standpoint the person hanging on a cross died of suffocation—and unbearable pain. His body already had been lacerated from the heavy beating which preceded his crucifixion. His flesh was hanging in shreds, sometimes to the point that his kidneys were exposed. No, the cross was anything but beautiful.
The Son of God was willing to suffer extreme degradation to pay the penalty for my sins…and for yours. Would you or I be willing to hang aloft in such pain with the enemy of all mankind jeering as though he had triumphed? I think not.
To those who haven’t experienced an eye-opening encounter with the Son of God, it must seem a little daft when His followers sing, “At the cross, at the cross, where I first saw the light.” Yet there is deep truth in the fact that when a person’s mind and heart have been touched by the Spirit of the living God, things which seem ugly to the natural eye, take on an inner beauty, seen only by the eye of faith.
One old saint turned a seasoned eye on a floral decoration in a church he was visiting. The flower arrangement featured a large cross made of lace. “Bah! Prettying up the cross!” he spat in disgust.
Maybe he was right.