Fifth Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus Dies on the Cross

Anthony Zimmerman
March 26, 2003
Reproduced with Permission

"And when they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left. And Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.' And they cast lots to divide his garments" (Luke 23:33-34).

Still the persecutors were not satisfied when they saw Him gasp and writhe in pain on the cross. They vented their venom by mockery: "The chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, "He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him" (Matthew 27:41-42). My uncle Brother Longinus, SVD, 94 years old at the time, said to me: "If He had come down from the cross, the devil would have laughed."

Hanging there for three hours was an agony with hills and valleys. Hanging by nails driven between sturdy wrist bones locked the rib cage and so prevented breathing, unless one raised himself by pushing up with the feet that had a nail through them. To breathe, push and then know the pain. Stop pushing and the body sags again with rib cage inactivated. The Romans did not want their criminals to die in comfort.

Father Peter Weiland, SVD, once our Rector at the seminary, tied his arms to a cross to hang there, testing the mechanics of crucifixion. He was an artist hoping to authenticate the exact bodily position of a crucified person. One of his experiments almost ended in tragedy when he nearly suffocated while hanging, unable to raise his rib-cage to breathe. He barely made it by extracting himself.

Jesus was offering THE Sacrifice to God, being priest and victim at the same time. He was giving His body, was shedding His blood, for the forgiveness of our sins. But we ask, why is sacrifice so important for the forgiveness of sins? Jesus knew. He didn't have to ask. Sacrifice has been a major element of religious cult since the time of Cain and Abel. It expresses worship of God the Creator by a creature, in an elementary and intense manner. "God made me out of nothing. I offer this creature in place of myself, and change it to show the truth that God made me; also to thank God, to ask forgiveness for sins, to request this and that favor and blessing. In the Old Testament Moses had prescribed the rites of the four main types of sacrifices to be made by the slaughter of animals. These ancient rites would now come to an end as Jesus offered Himself, as He was bringing His own blood into the sanctuary behind the tabernacle veil into the presence of God.

Now Christ was the fulfilling the ancient type. Filled with love for mankind by the Holy Spirit, Jesus was now undergoing the change from life to death as an act of adoration to God, of thanksgiving, of expiation for sins, and of petition for God's blessings. As fire consumed animal sacrifices as they ascended to God in flame and smoke, so He was consuming His human life to God as Head and Recapitulator of the cosmos.

By consuming His life and ending His body's life by death, He signified that God is Creator, and that all else is created by Him. As Priest He offered, as Victim He consumed His human life through the burning love for mankind that the Holy Spirit was sanctifying in His mind and heart. Now there will be peace in creation. Adam and Eve had disobeyed God. Jesus obeyed until the end. He obeyed for Adam and Eve, for all peoples, for the entire created universe. Jesus was confessing with body and mind: "You alone are God, and all the earth adores you." His sacrifice was bringing peace. He was saying: "Glory to God in the Highest, and peace on earth to men of good will." Jesus was fulfilling here and now the plans that God had designed for our sake.

The plans for this sacrifice were made long ago in heaven, were very ancient, were now coming to a climax. By it Christ was meriting for us the grace to save us, you and me, and to bring us to glory. "God has saved us and has called us to a holy life, not because of any merit of ours but according to his own design the grace held out to us in Christ Jesus before the world began, but now made manifold through the appearance of our Savior" (2 Timothy 1:9-10). This is indeed a time to thank God for His goodness.

The sun darkened, fearful that the existence of the cosmos was at stake. If Jesus fails, the cosmos will crash, becoming again chaos with darkness over the deep, as before the "beginning".The devil would howl with glee. But if He can persevere unto the end, then the Father will deliver to Him the cosmos as His own. For three hours the sun was veiled.

If Christ can persevere, then God will admit Adam and Eve back into Paradise, will make the Woman champion against the serpent, will establish the Church on earth as a ladder into heaven. "Yes, the just will praise your name; the upright shall live in your presence" (Psalm 140).

The great war was being waged, a war between life and death. Jesus was winning the struggle hour by hour, minute by minute, thus gaining command of the cosmos. He said: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." He said also to the good thief, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." How glad He was to do this!

He had another happy task to perform: He would give His sweet mother to the whole Church: "When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, 'Woman, behold, your son!' Then he said to the disciple, 'Behold, your mother!' And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home" (John 19:26-27). Satan heard it and cringed. He felt the ball of her heel smashing his head. How he hated her, and she him. It was time to eat dust, to crawl out of paradise and to get away from this Woman.

The hour was nearing the end. "After this Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfil the scripture), 'I thirst'" (John 19:28). His body thirsted for water, His soul thirsted for souls. Jesus taught Mother Teresa that His thirst for souls is intense. He challenged her to help Him slake His thirst for souls by saying to her:

"You have become My Spouse for my love. You have come to India for Me. The thirst you had for souls brought you so far. Are you afraid now to take one more step for Your Spouse, for Me, for souls? Is your generosity grown cold? Am I a second to you? You did not die for souls. That is why you don't care what happens to them. Your heart was never drowned in sorrow as was My Mother's. We both gave our all for souls - and you? You are afraid ..." (From: The Soul of Mother Teresa. Fr. Brian Kolodiejchuk, M.C.). Mother Teresa did respond. Besides every tabernacle in the churches of her sisters is written the request of Jesus: "I thirst."

Finally Jesus felt that the end was in sight. But one thing remained. God seemed so far away. He must offer this loneliness to strengthen our faith when we tend to falter: "And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, 'Eli, Eli, lama sabach-thani?' that is, 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' (Matthew 27:46). He was reciting Psalm 22:

"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?" Toward the end of the Psalm sorrow turns into a peon of victory: "I will tell of thy name to my brethren; in the midst of the congregation I will praise thee: "You who fear the LORD, praise him! all you sons of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you sons of Israel!"... All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him." He prayed the Psalm to its end, then waited.

"After this Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfil the scripture), 'I thirst.' A bowl full of vinegar stood there; so they put a sponge full of the vinegar on hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the vinegar, he said, 'It is finished'; and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit" (John 19:28-30).

Even in the offering of His death, Jesus remained in charge. His head did not drop, He made it bow. His spirit did not leave, He delivered it personally. Then the cosmos convulsed as Jesus left it for three days:

"And Jesus cried again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom; and the earth shook, and the rocks were split; the tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe, and said, 'Truly this was the Son of God!'" (Matthew 27: 50-54).

The body of Jesus was dead now, but the sacrifice remains to be completed. He will rise again on the third day. He will rise with power. He will gather together again the scattered apostles, and with them He will found His Church. And He will raise us up also in due time to live with the good thief in paradise.