Run, hide, tell

Run, hide, tell, is now the recommended advice given by the police in the event of a terrorist attack. The media is perhaps hoping that the mobile phone will first be produced to record the scene. Once recorded and broadcast on the internet and on television these then become the defining images of the atrocity. These images are somewhat separated from the horror of the event, they are blurred and distant, the public are shielded from seeing scenes which are too distressing. They can only give an impression of the terror, as all caught up in it will see it from their own viewpoint.

Our perception of the crucifixion of Jesus will have been influenced by how we have seen it depicted over the years. Some have maximized their portrayal of the blood and gore,film directors like Mel Gibson in his Passion of the Christ and artists like Grunwald in the Isenheim altarpiece. Yet most images of the crucifixion have a harmonious serenity about them. Some images of Christ on the cross, like that of the Spanish artist Zurbaran, are even beautiful, the artist displaying his skill in the billowing folds of the loin cloth as light as a cloud.

As we listen to the reading of the Passion do we allow our imagination to run and dwell on certain aspects of the scene? Or do we close our minds to the parts we find most difficult to bear? Had we been actual witnesses of the scene, what would have been  most painful to observe?: the hammering of the nails into his precious feet and hands, the scourging of his body or would it be the crown of prickly thorns pressed down on his head, for that is a pain we can relate to, having pricked our fingers on briars and roses? 

What would have made us angry? The ignorant taunts of the crowd, that fickle crowd who had days before acclaimed him as the Son of David and then called for his crucifixion? Would it have been the religious leaders who should have recognized him, but had him condemned so swiftly? Or would it have been the soldiers, just obeying orders, stripping him of his clothes and dividing the meagre spoils among themselves?

How awful must it have been to see his mother watching all this. She had brought him into the world in the agony of childbirth, but this pain was far worse. The sword predicted by Simeon had pierced her heart. And there is nothing she can do about it, she cannot change places with him she has to watch him suffer and die. May the image of Our Lady of Sorrows, beside the cross strengthen us when we are powerless to intervene, when we have to watch someone suffer whom we love.

Mary is there comforted by the women, and by John the beloved disciple. When Jesus sees her through his blood-clogged eyes he entrusts her to his care. He alone of the apostles is recorded as being present, and we may be critical of the disciples for running away after his arrest, for hiding in the upper room, with the doors locked for fear of arrest. Run, hide and tell was what they did, but the telling came only after Christ’s resurrection. But would Jesus really have wanted them to see him dying in agony? Would he who loved them so much have really wanted them to see him like this? Would he not have spared them that pain?  We do not hear him ask where they are, it is his Father in heaven whom he asks, 'my God, my God, why have you abandoned me?'

If we were there with Mary and John, would not our prayer be that this should end quickly? Crucifixion could be a long and drawn out death. Pilate was surprised to hear how quickly Jesus died. The moment of the last breath, the expiration must almost have come as a welcome sight, at last his suffering was ended. How often we hear of death as a happy release from suffering, ‘we could not want him to suffer any more.’

To visualize and imagine the suffering of Jesus, is painful but necessary. It is not enough to just know that Christ died for our sins, to know and repeat that line from the creed, For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried.

The cross has power as the means by which we were redeemed, and as the embodiment of the utter love of Christ. Using our imagination to comprehend his suffering, helps us to realise the depth of his love for each of us.  Trying to feel what he experienced can help us to imagine the pain of others who are suffering. From the cross Jesus teaches us that however desperate life may appear, all suffering will pass.

We go through nothing alone. God will never abandon us.