Last night’s wind left dogwood blossoms covering the walkway of our back garden. When I exited the screen porch, I tread on a blanket of still-white petals from the tree next to the walkway. None of the other dogwood trees had lost their petals, and this one particular tree still had many of them left on its limbs, but for whatever reason, it had showered a spring dusting that caused me to think about death. Especially the death that Christians celebrate this time of the year.
Crucifixion most likely began with the Assyrians and Babylonians who tied their victims to a tree or post, leaving their feet to dangle. The Romans, after learning of the punishment during the Punic Wars, began using crosses to perfect the punishment. The Roman Empire used it especially in the Holy Land, and in 4 B.C E. the Roman general Varus crucified 2,000 Jews, and the historian Josephus writes that there were mass crucifixions during the first century A.C.E.
The victim was scourged, forced to carry the horizontal beam to the upright post, stripped, then either tied or nailed through the wrist to the cross beam before it was attached to the upright post. The victim’s name and crime was posted above his or her head. It was a slow, painful, and public death. Viewed as a shameful way of death, it was reserved for only the worst of criminals, and no Roman citizen would be executed in this manner.
Christians wear crosses, churches attach them to high steeples, and the symbol is used in a myriad of other ways that represent our belief. Yet, the crosses we use are sanitized images of what was used to kill. The Christian crosses have no representation of blood, mucus, pieces of torn flesh, urine, feces, or hair. Nothing that is evident from such a brutal death is on any part of the gold cross worn around the neck of many Christians or on the silver crosses that are present in all Christian churches. They are pristine, and I suggest that is where we delude ourselves concerning His death.
Through our art, music, architecture, jewelry, and more, we have created a false image of what His death was. While we read and say the words of it, we deny its reality by our accepted images of what His execution was. What I am suggesting is that we can be honest of its brutality by our language of His ordeal and the images we use for it. Each of us, for instance, can discard the neat, golden cross worn around our necks and wear a small, rough, and irregular wooden one that would be more representative of the cross on which our Savior tasted death for us. I appreciate that houses of worship will not and perhaps can not remove their crosses. But we individual Christians can make a small change to remind us of His death on a tree and the brutal pain He endured.