Each year our ecumenical group of congregations leads a “Way of the Cross Walk” through our neighborhood. We are Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Presbyterian, Episcopal, Mennonite and others who simply join in along the way. When I am leading the walk, I am aware that some of my deepest heart-work takes place in the mapping of the route in which we choose the places we will pray and in the writing of the reflections for each place. Today, however, I was particularly moved in the conversations along the way, and the experience of being fully present at the stations.
The walk draws me to listen freshly to biblical story of the journey to the cross; to remember the cruelty, the suffering, the inhuman disregard for life; and at the same time the compassion, the ache, the love, and the possible healing of those were with Jesus along the way. The walk calls me to go to new places within, to challenge my own assumptions.
In the past year, I have listened to and cared for people suffering with PTSD, rooted in varied traumatic experiences. As I read the story this time, I found myself asking questions about the soldiers that I had not asked before.
The Story: “Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the Sabbath …. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out.” (John 19:31-34)
The biblical story ends here. A story in tradition, however, tells of Jesus taken from the cross and placed in the arms of his mother. The paintings or sculptures of this are called the “The Pieta”, rooted in the Pity.
It would be wrong for us to assume that every soldier carrying out crucifixions wanted to do it. It would be wrong for us to assume that no soldier shuddered and felt sick at the thought of the torture he inflicted. It would be wrong to assume that every soldier treated the bodies on the crosses like rubbish. It would be wrong to assume that just because a soldier was caught up in the fervor and acted with cruelty and disregard, that he did not suffer from his actions. Surely there were soldiers who, like Pilate, wanted to wash their hands of what they had done, but it just would not come off. Surely in their nightmares, they heard the groans and saw the horror, unable to escape it. It would not have been called PTSD in that time, but surely there were soldiers who suffered.
Perhaps when they took Jesus from the cross, his mother begged to hold him, and through an act of compassion a soldier was able to find momentary solace, touching that place of compassion within himself. Perhaps a soldier did believe that ‘Surely this Jesus was the Son of God,” and that realization brought healing to his wounded spirit. (Or did it send him into deeper despair?)
In our work lives, and in our lives as citizens, many of us participate in systems we know are wrong. Often our souls are wounded, our humanity distorted, by the work we do, or the systems we support financially, or the groups in which we have become entangled. The spiritual wounds of participation in war or in other acts of violence run deep. Though we may believe there is no way out, no alternative, God offers us opportunities – even small ones – to begin to reclaim ourselves. It may be an act of compassion, or a glimpse of new understanding.
The gift is that God-With-Us in Jesus Christ is able to bring healing, to redeem even the most broken places in our lives. Thanks be to God.