“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
A good many years ago, my dad recruited—or perhaps more accurately, drafted me for some home improvement project he had started. All that I recall now of the project—and I recall this part most clearly—was that it involved hulking, greasy timbers; timbers like telephone poles, soaked in creosote as was the fashion of the day to preserve wood; dark and sticky and rough as a cob.
As I hefted one such timber, my grip slipped and I instantly knew of one error in judgment: I was barehanded, and in that instant my palm suddenly became what the inside of a porcupine’s fur must look like.
But being young, hardy and tough if not near immortal, I plucked out such splinters as I could, tossed on a pair of gloves, and went back to my work. Or rather, my father’s work. And being young and busy, I thought little more of the incident.
Until, that is, a year or so later when I was engaged in one of my occasional efforts of trimming my fingernails—and noticed a dark brown streak had appeared under one nail. As the days followed, more streaks appeared, and some began to emerge from under my nails. Yes, indeed, in those passing months the splinters-left-behind had somehow migrated beneath my skin to emerge, soft but intact, from the ends of my fingers. And before you cringe too much, I hasten to add that they did so without noticeable pain.
Come Good Friday, I think of Jesus and the rough-hewn timber he handled. As an amateur carpenter I wonder if the Romans kept a handy stock of well-dried posts, ready for the day’s crucifixions, or if it was more of a catch-as-catch-can affair, with crosses constructed of fresh-cut, sap-heavy green timbers, all the more heavy and dripping with the sticky life-blood of the sacrificed tree.
Either way, given the technology of the times, the timber would have been rough-hewn and rife with splinters. And as Christ began the long walk down the Via Dolorosa; as he leaned, lifted; hefted, tugged, and staggered forward under the burden, I’ve little doubt that his carpenter’s shoulder soon resembled a pincushion as splinters gained purchase, then drove into his flesh.
I wonder what the passing country bumpkin, Simon from Cyrene saw as he in turn hefted the weight of the cross. How deep the creases, how raw the skin, how prickled with splinters and splattered with blood was that weary Divine shoulder?
One thing we know—those splinters, unlike mine, would not have months to be absorbed or even transported by the body. Christ’s human corpus had but hours of life left. And I rather doubt that any Roman soldier offered any care for the wounded shoulder. Chances are good that when Christ cried out and released his Spirit, the human flesh he left behind was pierced not only by a single great spear, but by myriad miniature spears dug deep into his shoulder.
Yet I would argue that the splinters’ story does not end there, for we know this also: “We have been crucified with Christ and we no longer live, but Christ lives in us.”
The question for us on Good Friday, on that day we remember the passion and death of our Lord, is how will those splinters driven deep into Christ work out as Christ lives in us?
That question is not so easy to answer as it was in the 50s, when Christ and America seemed to walk in tandem. Today our culture readily turns on Christ and his followers; our faith is disparaged and we are mocked as bigots and haters when we stand for simple truths such as marriage means a man and a woman; we are deemed “sexist” if we say God is our Father; and told we are akin to the Taliban if we suggest the principles of chastity and fidelity should govern our sexual relations.
What will we do, when our worldly culture openly hates us? Shall we pluck those little remnants of the one true cross out of our flesh, that we might not be marked as His follower?
Or shall we live our lives in a way that, in time, like the splinters appearing under my fingernails, we show forth evidence of Christ’s suffering, love, and sacrifice for us…and for those who oppose us?
The answer is, of course, clear and certain: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”