A VIOLENT PASSING
Jesus faced a brutal, excruciating death, yet He would not turn away.
17:05 p.m. ambulance number two sped from McDonough County Hospital with red lights flashing and roared down Highway 136 toward the town of Bushnell. The dispatch on the dashboard was brief: "Car wreck."
Sitting in the back beside the stretcher I watched trees and telephone poles whiz past and wondered how this call would turn out. You never could tell. Even the recent collision between a pickup and a locomotive (which I was sure would be a sight) had resulted only in a few minor scratches. It seemed it was always the 1 l-to-7 guys who got the really bad stuff.
Darkness settled over the broad Illinois cornfields as we raced toward the accident. Rounding a curve just south of Bushnell we came upon a crowd of people and two police cars beside the road. One decrepit pickup leaned into a drainage ditch. Another false alarm, I thought.
But then I saw it—out in the field. A Chevy that had once been white was crumpled up about thirty yards from the road. The car had turned end-over-end several times.
The Chevy lay there all alone, speckled in the moonlight. Spectators lining the road maintained their distance. Even the police did not go near. Sure sign of a mess.
A sheriff walked up and asked Dave, our driver, to radio a report to the county coroner. I was relieved. At least there would be no screaming.
Clutching my attendant's bag I walked slowly over the deep furrows with the other orderly. We peered reluctantly through a smashed window. Our flashlight picked out legs sprawled on the seat, one shoe missing; head and chest lay on the floorboard. But he was all in one piece.
Then our beam of light hit the man's face. His eyes stared up at us, wide open and full of terror.
I had seen deaths before in the hospital. Those in the geriatric ward who slipped away by inches and simply closed their eyes in a deeper sleep. And I had seen violent deaths—people in the early morning fog whose lives were suddenly wrenched away by a windshield. But their eyes seemed benumbed, reflecting only quiet surprise.
This man still shouted. His gaze pierced. In his face one could read the sudden swerve off the road, his grip torn from the steering wheel, and the wild tumbling before the final blow to his head. Terror fully tasted shone from his gray eyes— "Help!" And his wide-open mouth, filled with blood, was a frozen scream.
The two of us straightened his limbs respectfully and managed to maneuver
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they skinned alive. SS troops machine-gunning women and children who ran from the burning synagogue with clothes ablaze. Child molesters making sure their victims would never testify against them. Pharaohs sacrificing thousands of faceless laborers to build themselves a deifying tomb.
Jesus took on all this and more. It all fell on Him with unspeakable violence. He was tossed about in the endless storm of enraged fathers beating toddlers to death, pimps seducing teen runaways into lives of drugs and prostitution, Canaanites burning their children to Moloch, nice church ladies cannibalizing other nice church ladies over coffee, grand inquisitors piously binding conscience to the rack and demanding right doctrine at a stake, impoverished parents in China selling their daughters into slavery, Bible-believing elders praying long and loud while their wives sit in the back pews hoping heavy makeup covers the bruises.
On and on it goes, a storm of titanic currents raging between Heaven and Earth, two irreconcilable moral fronts colliding at full strength in the dark. Jesus tumbles alone amid embezzlers, gangsters, bullies, rapists, liars, the indifferent, the sadistic, the self-righteous. It's a scene of unbearable horror and unspeakable madness. Jesus writhes amid this suffocating cloud of witnesses. He is the accused for them all, bearing the weight of abused children scarred for life, families destroyed by adultery or apathy, civilizations decaying, wars ravaging, victims, victims, always victims crying out. They are numberless and their anguished voices all focus on this one Man tumbling in the storm, exposed, vulnerable to it all. Wasted lives, heartache, monstrous atrocity, petty transgression—humanity dumps its wreckage on this one spot.
Yet through it all, deep in the terror of hell, He keeps His eyes wide open. He's not just a bystander caught in the accident; He's come to this epicenter deliberately. He will accept it all, absorbing the full force of this storm of wrath in His body and mind and heart and soul until there is nothing left to feel. Jesus did not go gently into the night; His virtue and integrity and purity and life were ripped from His hands, bit by shredded bit.
Finally the tumbling slows a bit, the storm slackens, and Jesus lifts himself on His nailed feet to snatch a gasp of air and forces His swollen tongue to shout, "It is finished." I've come. I've seen. I've felt. I've conquered.
Now at last they can come with a spear to test this public, forensic death. Now His limbs go limp and refuse to tremble when prodded. A soldier drives the iron point up under His ribs to the heart and the few friendly bystanders still remaining shudder as they watch His body move with that strange, rubbery passivity of the dead being yanked about.
We afe Of Course removed some distance from Golgotha and its horrors. From our vantage point there's always a danger of ornamenting Christ's death into a mere abstraction. We give earnest assent to the idea of His passing, but rarely see or feel its visceral drama. The Cross is such a dissected, familiar theological category. We celebrate it in the comfortable and dignified confines of a sanctuary. It's hard to really touch the wrenching brutality of that event.
One of the telltale sounds of our urban world is the wail of a siren in the night, whining louder and closer, then fading off toward some point of distress. Those shrieking sirens accumulate tales of tragedy and add up more victims on a daily basis—but all very far from most of us on the outskirts of the city.
Few of us in the suburbs are touched by the violence. We gather our children close, shake our heads at the six o'clock news, and thank God for safety. Fortunately it's all very foreign—these gangs strafing houses, drug lords executing each other, blood on the sidewalks, dark figures up against the wall. It's not our world; we didn't create it.
But there was one who took on all that which we rightfully shudder at. That incomprehensible violence that we pray never comes into our immaculate neighborhoods has been heaped on the One with an immaculate soul and has torn it apart.
Sometimes we do get a glimpse, if only in an accident victim's eyes, of theCrossas a spectacle designed to pierce our minds and hearts. For a moment it stands stark and unnerving as a silent scream in a mangled car. Christ crucified. Blood shed. No colleagues eulogized Jesus' "untimely passing." No flowers covered the hole in the earth. He endured a naked act of violence, alone on that barren stretch of Golgotha.
That is the ultimate measure of His courage: facing hell open-eyed, taking on what no man could bear. Christ looked straight into the specter of eternal separation from the Father and yet willed Himself to stay on the cross. There was no cushioning in His coffin. He absorbed the shock of an evil that causes nature herself to groan.
By His blows we are healed. He remains our servant to the end, carried off and wrapped in linen. And we, His privileged attendants, may walk beside, dressed in the white robes of His righteousness.
STEVEN MOSLEY, a writer for Christian television, is the author of God: A Biography and A Tale of Three Virtues: Cures for Colorless Christianity (Questar, 1988, 1989).
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crashed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, haw gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
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