The Entrance of Our Lord into Jerusalem

By Very Rev. George M. Benigsen

"You were bought at a price," says the Apostle Paul regarding our salvation. (1 Cor. 6:20) During Holy Week we become witnesses to the truly enormous price at which our salvation was obtained. Several major American medical experts have just published research on what crucifixion is in general, and what tortures were endured on One who was crucified in particular – Our Lord Jesus Christ – perfect God and perfect Man.

Christ’s physical sufferings were preceded by spiritual ones which were manifested in the physical area. The Evangelist Luke, himself a physician by trade, says that during Christ’s prayer in Gethsemane, "His sweat became like great drops of blood." Physicians say that such a phenomenon is possible in a state of heightened spiritual tension, from which the blood vessels in the skin can burst open, and drops of blood, along with perspiration, can redden the face of the sufferer.

Jesus, who was given over by Pilate for execution, had to endure, as all who were sentenced to death through crucifixion, the cruelest scourging with Roman whips into which metallic balls or sharp pieces of bone were sewn. For this the prisoner’s clothes were removed, his hands were tied to a wooden post, and usually two soldiers would whip his back and legs with the aim of bringing him to semi-consciousness. After this, the soldiers would mock the prisoner.

Jesus the Man must have had a strong constitution, for otherwise it would have been difficult for Him to bear His untiring work of preaching, which involved constant and exhausting walking from place to place. However, within twelve hours, from nine o’clock in the evening on Holy Thursday to nine o’clock in the morning of Holy Friday, He endured the agonizing tension which brought on the bloody sweat in Gethsemane. He endured betrayal on the part of His dear disciple Judas, and endured a sleepless night and numerous moves from one place of His condemnation to another. And then came the scourging, with the whips cutting up the skin with bloody stripes, penetrating into the body’s muscles, and causing loss of blood and unbearable pain. And so, the soldiers start mocking this totally worn out Prisoner – they clothe Him in what looks like am imperial cloak, place a crown of thorns on His head, put a stick – a scepter – into His bound hands, spit in His face, and hit His head with a cane. Finally, they tear the cloak off Him in this way causing even more pain to His back, which is full of wounds from the scourging.

Thus, even before His crucifixion, the Lord was close to total physical exhaustion. This is why He didn’t have the strength to carry His cross to Calvary, and the help of Simon of Cyrene, who was on his way from the field, was needed.

Before His crucifixion there was an attempt to give Jesus some gall mixed with wine. This was a mild painkiller, whose aim was to prolong the agony of the crucifixion. The Lord refused to drink this concoction. He was thrown to the ground. His back and legs, torn up by the scourging, rubbed against the dirt with open wounds. His hands and feet were nailed to the cross with four-sided nails, five to seven inches long. The hands were nailed through the wrists, so that the body could not break loose from the cross. The nails went in between the main wrist bones and damaged the central nerves in the hands and feet, causing the person unbearable searing pain. Once upon the cross, the sufferer touched the rough surface of the cross with the wounds of His mangled back. The weight of the body hanging by extended arms, made breathing agonizing – not just inhalation, but exhalation as well, which explains the brevity and abruptness of the Lord’s words from the cross.

The crucified person usually died either from loss of blood, or from asphyxiation. The period from the start of the crucifixion to death could take three to four hours, and sometimes it took three to four days. To hasten the onset of death, the soldiers would break the legs of the person, which was the case with the two thieves who were crucified along with Christ. A Roman soldier pierced His side with a spear. The Gospel account regarding blood and water coming from the wound is in accordance with medical data – blood from the heart which had already stopped got mixed with moisture from the pierced lung. So worn out was the crucified Christ, so much physical and moral agony did He endure, that the divine heart stopped beating three to four hours after the crucifixion.

The American physicians, who were from the Mayo Clinic, the well-known medical research center, presented in their report much more data about crucifixion than we have room for in our brief discussion. But this is enough for an even deeper understanding of St Paul’s words, "You were bought at a price," and for us to have a sense of the whole tragic reality of Christ’s Passion, the sufferings and agony of Christ who died for us. Holy Week will take the faithful to that time when Christ died, and into those conditions that brought about God’s murder. And it will do so not simply in turns of pious recollections, but in the full reality of mystical experience – the experience which has the power to take us out of the present time, out of the "contemporary scene" and to unite us to that eternity which entered time and remained in it through the Incarnation.

And on this Sunday, as we meet the Lord coming into Jerusalem, and as we mingle our voices with the hymns of the crowd greeting Him, calling to Him "Hosanna in the highest," it is good to keep in mind how easily "Hosanna" can change into "Crucify, crucify Him"!

April 27, 1986

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