Conundrum at Calvary



A few years ago we visited the Holy Land, courtesy of kind friends. The highlight for us was viewing the historic site of Calvary.


We were surprised. While the general public isn’t allowed on top of the actual hill of Calvary, what we saw from below looked nothing like the green, grassy landscape we expected.


The actual hill of Calvary was barren, an outcropping of rock on top of a crag that really did resemble a human skull. Historians tell us crucifixions took place near paths outside the city, so those coming and going could witness what happened to those who disobeyed their laws.


More surprising yet, as we stood at the bottom of the site and looked below, there was a bus station. A 21st-century bus station, carrying on business as usual, in close proximity 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 minds, was being led to his death after a tortuous beating?


If a person delves into the humiliation of this Roman version of punishment in Jesus’ day, then today’s use of crosses in jewelry and wall decorations seems a startling contradiction.


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 humiliation, occupied by the lowest of humanity.


From a medical standpoint, the person hanging on a cross usually died of suffocation. Certainly, his pain was beyond human comprehension. The skin on his back hung in shreds, lacerated from the heavy beating which preceded the trip to the cross. Sometimes his kidneys lay exposed. No, the cross was anything but beautiful.


The sinless Son of God suffered extreme degradation to pay the penalty for my sins…and for yours. One must ask, “Would I be willing to hang aloft in agony, with the enemy and all mankind jeering as though they had triumphed?” The answer makes us uneasy.


Those who have experienced an eye-opening encounter with the Son of God must seem a little daft to those outside the faith when we sing, “At the cross, where I first saw the light.” Yet there is deep truth 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.


An old man entered a church building and saw a floral decoration featuring a lace cross. “Bah! Prettying up the cross!” he spat in disgust.


Perhaps he missed what converged at that famous site. Those who haven’t been touched by Christ’s unspeakable sacrifice have trouble comprehending joy springing from sorrow. healing through pain, beauty from the grotesque.


Good Friday brought us all the above.


What about you? Any comments prior to Resurrection Sunday? Join the conversation below.