According to Jo-Ann A. Brant, Jesus’s crucifixion and burial are described in seven movements, in John’s gospel.
- Crucifixion, John 19:16-18
- Contention concerning the inscription above Jesus’s cross, John 19:19-22
- Casting lots over Jesus’s clothing, John 19:23-25
- Committing of John and Mary the mother of Jesus to each other, John 19:25-27
- Christ’s spirit commended into God’s hands, John 19:28-30
- Cut of the Centurion’s spear, John 19:31-37
- Consignment of Christ to the tomb, John 19:38-42
Monday was the crucifixion, Tuesday was the inscription above Jesus’s cross. Today lots will be cast over Jesus’s clothes, then the Lord will commit John and Mary the mother of Jesus to each other.
First Saying of the Cross
John must have been there to hear everything Jesus said, and those words must have sunk deep into John’s soul. Over the centuries, these words were gathered lovingly by the church to become the Seven Sayings of the Cross.
The first came after the contention over what Pilate had written, “Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Judeans.”
Father, forgive them, for they have not seen or perceived what they are doingLuke 23, 24
Did Jesus know the great argument that had arisen over this? Was that what he asked forgiveness for? Or was it everything—the betrayal, the indictment, the flogging, the cross, the faithlessness and darkness, how they had all become the puppets of evil?
Lots Cast For Christ’s Clothing
Just as he spoke these words, the soldiers turned to the meager pile of humble clothing that had been stripped from the crucified men. As they pawed through it all, they divided it into four shares (so we glean there were three soldiers accompanying the Centurion). But Jesus’s undergarment presented a dilemma. It was a seamless robe, having been woven from top to bottom as one piece, the openings for arms and head artfully created through redirecting the threads rather than cutting.
The soldiers could not bring themselves to tear it, so they agreed to cast lots for it. As John watched in that surreal way, half present and half floating as though only marginally connected to earth, a scripture came to his mind,
they divide my clothes among themselves,Psalm 22:18 (NRSV)
and for my clothing they cast lots.
And he realized this ancient hymn of desperate yet hopeful faith had been written prophetically by Jesus’s forbear, King David.
The soldiers, not realizing they had just fulfilled a thousand-year-old prophecy, then sat on the ground as they waited for their captives to die. Perhaps they leaned callously against the crosses. Perhaps they had brought something to sit on, with practiced forethought.
Those who passed by shoveled out scorn and insults for Jesus. In a shame-based culture there are really only two ways to cope with it. Self-humiliation and self-contempt, or the castigation of others. It feels like empowerment, to belittle others, to mock them and tear them down. But in reality, it hardens the heart of the abuser, poisoning them, corrupting them. And it guts their victims.
It seems a large contingent from the Sanhedrin had come to gloat over their erstwhile foe, for Matthew recorded how the temple authorities came to deride Jesus for boasting that he would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days. How they crowed with perverse delight! How the flung their barbs with pleasure! Save yourself, they cried, perhaps posturing in grand and outlandish stances, mocking a self-important preacher. Come down off that cross, IF you are the Son of God!
Ho, with fiendish elation, they strutted and grandstanded, thinking an imposter had been pinned to the tree. I wonder if, deep down, they knew what they were saying? He saved others, they howled, But he cannot save himself! Perhaps most shocking were Annas and Caiaphas, the chief priests of all Judaism across the known world, the pillars of the faith. They had come with their elite cadre of elders and teachers of the law to jeer and taunt.
Practiced orators, they took turns in addressing the growing crowd, now using Pilate’s hated marquee to their own use. Let this Messiah, this ‘King of Israel,’ one would say, with every ounce of derision he could muster, Come down now, from the cross. And the other would nod, Then we will believe in him. The unspoken word between their lines meant their belief was Jesus’s chief aim. How simple, then, for him now. He need only use one ounce of his sovereign power, and they would be fully in support of him as his two most prominent and sought-after worshippers.
He trusts in God, and I imagine one thrusting his hand toward heaven all the while holding his audience rapt with his insinuating eyes and barbarous grin, Let God rescue him now, and with a long pause, dramatic looks to heaven with exaggerated question, both hands pleadingly held in the air, IF he wants him! For he did say, “I am the Son of God.” And here would come more ugly laughter and cruel degradation. That is, IF he is the Messiah of God, the Chosen One.
Echoes of Satan’s own taunts in the wilderness, If you are the Son of God, then . . .
Second Saying of the Cross
Even the soldiers who had gambled for his clothes heaped shame and humiliation on the Lamb of God, offering him wine vinegar (which he must have refused).
Even the criminals hanging on his right and his left. Are you not the Messiah? Demanded one. Save yourself! Save us! Perhaps the anger and outrage surging through their bodies helped them to forget their unspeakable agony. But then one of them must have caught the wind of the Spirit, for he rebuked the first man. Do you not fear God? In that you are under the same condemnation? Then indeed we are receiving justly for our deeds, but this one has not even one unrighteous deed.
Turning to Jesus, and surely with great effort after that long diatribe, this robber gathered his breath and said, Jesus put me in your mind when you come into your Kingdom.
Jesus must have known this was a gift from the Spirit to him as he hung suffering and dying for the sins of the world.
Amen, I say to you, this day you will be with me in Paradise.Luke 23:43
Third Saying of the Cross
There is a story, an ancient tradition within the church, that Mary could not bear Jesus’s abasement, so she took some of that dishonor upon herself by removing her headscarf and wrapping it around her son, that at least his nakedness might be covered. I have wondered if this is when Jesus’s attention was drawn to his mother, and to John standing with her.
Two other Marys were there, the one from Magdala whom Jesus had freed from seven demons, and Mary “of” Clopas—who was probably his wife (rather than daughter or sister). Clopas, church tradition holds, was a brother of Mary’s husband Joseph, and was one of the two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus when they met the resurrected Jesus along the way.
It is right that Mary’s sister-in-law would be with her, for she could not be alone, as a woman, and also as a grieving mother. And it is right that Mary of Magdala should be there, for she, too, could not be alone. She had no one else, and she would not leave Jesus.
This was an important moment for Jesus, for Mary the mother was his final tie of obligation to the world. Hanging on the cross, stripped of even his undergarment, he had nothing left, except the responsibility of the oldest son for the care of his family. In this moment, in the kindness of God the Father, Jesus saw Mary already in the care of John, and he accepted the tableau.
As these four stood with the dying Lamb of God,
Jesus therefore beholding the mother and the disciple standing beside her, the one he loved (agape), he says to the mother, “Mistress, behold your son,” after that he says to the disciple, “Behold your mother.”John 19:26-27
And it seems, from that moment on, John took Mary the mother of Jesus into his personal safekeeping as one of his own.
This moment would be repeated again and again in the lives of the martyrs to come, and would be a mark of God’s kindness and care to them to provide, as exemplified in the story of Perpetua.
[The thief being taken up to Paradise | The Brooklyn Museum, James Tissot, Public Domain]