This is an excerpt from Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s book ‘The Life of Christ’
The procession of the Cross was usually preceded by a trumpeter to clear the road; then followed a herald announcing the name of the criminal who was being led to execution. Sometimes the name of the criminal and the reason for his condemnation was written on a board and hung about his neck. Two witnesses of the council which sentenced the one condemned to death were also to accompany the procession. A centurion mounted on horseback, along with a considerable detachment of soldiers, formed part of the procession. There were also the two thieves who were to be crucified with Our Lord. He bore the full weight of the Cross on His back and shoulders which were already raw from the scourging.
The Sunday previous He was hailed as “King” that morning the people shouted: “No King but Caesar.” The Jerusalem that saluted Him was now the Jerusalem that disowned Him. Since the temple priests had found Him accursed, they exiled Him from Jerusalem. This was the Law of Leviticus that the sin offering should be driven outside the city gates or the camp.
As for the transgression-victims, The bullock and the goat, Whose blood was carried into the sanctuary To make expiation there, The carcasses must be taken away from the camp And destroyed by fire, skin and flesh and dung together. LEVITICUS 16:27
Christ, the ultimate in sin offering, is driven like the scapegoat outside the city. St. Paul suggests that from that moment the city forfeited its claim to greatness and was replaced by the heavenly Jerusalem.
Thus it was that Jesus, when He would sanctify The people through His own blood, 385Suf ered beyond the city gate. Let us, too, go out to Him away from the camp, Bearing the ignominy He bore; We have an everlasting city, but not here; Our goal is the city that is one day to be. HEBREWS 13:12–14
Isaias had foretold that “His government would be on His shoulder” it now became clear that the Cross was His government or law of life. He had said that anyone who was to be His disciple must take up his Cross and follow Him.
Fearful that the long scourgings, the loss of blood, the crowning with thorns would bring His end before the Crucifixion, His enemies compelled a stranger, Simon of Cyrene, to help Him carry His Cross. Cyrene was a town on the northern coast of Africa. But Simon’s nationality is uncertain. He could have been Jewish, judging by his name, or a Gentile; it may be that he was even a black African, judging by his native locality and the fact that he was “forced” to help Our Lord carry the Cross. It was the first time the Savior laid His Cross on anyone; to Simon belongs the privilege of first sharing the Cross of Christ.
They forced a passer-by who was coming In from the country to carry it, One Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. MARK 15:21
Simon did not undertake this task willingly, for the Greek word used in the Gospel was adopted from a Persian word which signified the compulsory employment of beasts for the delivery of mail in the Persian Empire. Simon was probably one of the curious thousands who were interested in seeing a man go to death, and who stood on the roadway until the long arm of the Roman law forced him to share the ignominy of a Cross. Though at first reluctant because compelled, he nevertheless must have found, as Our Lord said His followers would, “the yoke sweet and burden light.” Otherwise his two sons would not later have been mentioned by Paul as pillars of the Church.
Our Lord during His public life taught gentleness in return for injury:
If a man compels thee to attend him On a mile’s journey, Go two miles with him of thy own accord. MATTHEW 5:41
Simon may never have heard the words; but words were not needed when he followed the Word.
Along the procession route, too, were many women. There are numerous instances of 386men failing in the Crucifixion, such as the Apostles who slept in the garden, Judas who betrayed, the Jewish and the Gentile courts who condemned, but there is not a record of a single woman ever asking for His death. A heathen woman had interceded for His life with Pilate. At the Cross there would be four women but only one Apostle. During His last week the children shouted “Hosanna,” the men cried “Crucify,” but the women “wept.” To the weeping women He said:
It is not for Me that you should weep, Daughters of Jerusalem; You should weep for yourselves and your children. Behold, a time is coming when men will say, It is well for the barren, For the wombs that never bore children, And the breasts that never suckled them. It is then that they will begin to say To the mountains, Fall on us, And to the hills, Cover us. If it goes so hard with the tree that is still green, What will become of the tree That is already dried up? LUKE 23:28–31
Our Lord here referred to words that He had already spoken concerning the approaching doom of Jerusalem:
The days will come upon thee when Thy enemies will fence thee round about, And encircle thee, and press thee hard on every side, And bring down in ruin both thee And thy children that are in thee, Not leaving one stone of thee upon another; And all because thou didst not recognize The time of My visiting thee. LUKE 19:43, 44
As in the garden He had told the soldiers to take Him and let the Apostles go their way, so too He told the women not to mourn over Him, for He was innocent, but to mourn over the destruction of Jerusalem, which was a symbol of the destruction of the world at the end of time. Actually, when the destruction of Jerusalem did come, Josephus recorded that the people of Jerusalem hid themselves in dens and rocks of mountains.
This was the first time since His interrogation before Pilate that Our Lord broke His silence. It was the Passion sermon of the Savior, or rather the first part of it; the second 387part consisted of His Seven Last Words from the Cross.
If there was any one moment when Our Lord might have been preoccupied with His own sorrows and have taken the tears of others as a solace for His grief, it was this moment on the way to Calvary, and yet He bade the women to shed no tears for Him. He Who wept at Bethany and Whose Blood now wept on the road of Jerusalem, bade them not to weep for Him, for His death was a willed necessity—willed freely by Him, but a necessity for men. Furthermore, since He had promised to wipe away all tears, tears for Him were needless.
The green tree was Himself; the dry tree the world. He was the green tree of life transplanted from Eden; the dry tree was Jerusalem first, and then the unconverted world. His warning meant that if the Romans so treated Him Who was innocent, how would they treat Jerusalem that had condemned Him to death? If He was so bruised because of the transgression of others, how in the final judgment would the guilty be punished for their own iniquities? When there is fire in the forest, the green trees with sap and moisture darken, but how the old dry trees which are rotten to the core will burn! If He Who had no sin suffered, how will they suffer who are rotten with sin!
Peter, who was not mentioned in this scene but who lived so intimately with the Savior, later picked up this same theme, and wrote:
If the just man wins salvation only with difficulty, What will be the plight of the godless, of the sinner? Why then, let those who suffer in fulfillment Of God’s will commend their souls, All innocent, into His hands; He created them, and He will not fail them. I PETER 4:18–19
No tears of Dalila would keep this Samson from his work today; no superficial wailings of the women of Jerusalem would weaken Him in His determined purpose of sacrifice; their dowry of tears could not make them the brides of His heart. If He were just a good man going to His death, then let them open the fountain of tears; but because He was a Priest going to sacrifice, then let them weep only if they availed themselves not of its fruits. As He would purge death of death by rising from the grave, so He now purged tears of lamentation, by showing that sin alone was worth tears. They were weeping for Him as a good man, but no such tears would He have at His deathbed. By rejecting their grief, He showed that He was not a good man sent to death, but a Godman saving sinners.
Hidden in His words was a plea for faithfulness to avert the doom of Jerusalem; its destiny was in the hands of women, did they but repent. On this as on many other occasions, He bade His hearers look to the state of their own souls. He diverted attention from Himself Who was sinless, to those who needed Redemption. When the young man told Our Lord he wanted to be His disciple, Our Lord told him He had nowhere to lay 388His head. Was the condition of the youth’s soul fit for such poverty? When Peter said he would die for Him, Our Lord told the Apostle how weak his soul was; so now the women were told not to have misplaced sorrow; let them look to their souls, their children, their city. He needed no tears; they did.
The place assigned for the Crucifixion was Golgotha, or the “Place of the Skull.” Legend has it that it was the burial place of Adam. Representations of the Crucifixion often show a skull at the foot of the Cross to indicate that the new Adam was dying for the old Adam. But certainly, it was a place where dead bones were thrown after execution. Once on the hill, the executioners stripped Him of His garments, opening new wounds in His Sacred Body. In all, there were seven distinct bloodsheddings; the Circumcision, the Agony in the Garden, the Scourging, the Crowning with thorns, the Way of the Cross, and now the two that are to follow: the Crucifixion and the Piercing of the Sacred Heart.
The Cross was prepared and over it was placed an inscription written by Pilate in Hebrew, Latin and Greek, reading:
Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. JOHN 19:19
His death and also His Kingship were proclaimed in the name of the three cities of the world: Jerusalem, Rome, and Athens; in the language of the Good, the True and the Beautiful; in the tongues of Sion, the Forum and the Acropolis. Pilate would be asked to change what he had written, but he would refuse: “What I have written, I have written.” His Kingship remained proclaimed, though, for the moment, a Cross would be His throne; His Blood, the royal purple; the nails, His sceptre; the crown of thorns, His diadem. Truth was made to speak when men ridiculed.
Being stripped of His garments meant that He was no longer localized by dress. In His nakedness He became the Universal Man. Exiled outside the city, He now gave up country as well as life. The Sacred Heart was confined by no frontiers. The rough nail was applied to that hand from which the world’s graces flow, and the first dull knock of the hammer was heard in silence. Blow followed blow and was quickly re-echoed from the city walls beneath. Mary and John held their ears; the echo sounded as another stroke. Feet too were pinioned, the feet which sought the lost sheep among the thorns. Every detail of prophecy was being fulfilled. A thousand years before, David looked forward to the role hammer and nails would play in greeting the Messias, as carpenters would put to death Him Who carpentered the universe:
My enemies ring Me round, Packed close as a herd of oxen, Strong as bulls from Basan; so might a lion Threaten Me with its jaws, roaring for its prey. I am spent as spilt water, all My bones out of joint, 389My heart turned to molten wax within Me; Parched is My throat, like clay in the baking And My tongue sticks fast in My mouth; Thou hast laid Me in the dust, to die. Prowling about Me like a pack of dogs, Their wicked conspiracy hedges Me in; They have torn holes in My Hands and Feet; I can count My bones one by one; And they stand there watching Me, gazing at Me in triumph. PSALM 21:13–13
Isaias had foretold that in His death the Messias would be linked up with criminals and wrongdoers. Being a vicarious victim for sinners, He was accounted no better than the scum of the earth. As Isaias prophesied:
A victim? Yet He Himself bows to the stroke; No word comes from Him. Sheep led away to the slaughter-house, Lamb that stands dumb while it is shorn; No word from Him… So many lives ransomed, foes so violent Balked of their spoil! Such is His due, that gave Himself up to death, And would be counted among the wrongdoers; Bore those many sins, and made intercession For the guilty. ISAIAS 53:7–7
Because crucifixion was the most excruciating of all torments, it was customary to offer the condemned a drink to deaden sensitivity to the pain. Probably the women of Jerusalem had brought such a potion with them. In any case, the soldiers:
Offered Him a draught of wine mixed with myrrh, Which He would not take. MARK 15:23
Our Lord, when it was brought to His lips, knowing it to be a sedative, refused to sip. Though His Body, already exhausted, cried out for water, He would not drink that which would dull His role as mediator. At His birth, His mother was given the gift of myrrh and accepted it as a sign of His ransoming death. At His death, He would refuse the myrrh which would deaden the reason of His coming. He told Peter the night before that He would drink the cup His Father had given Him. But to drink that cup of Redemption He 390must not drink of the cup that would drive a wedge between His Body and His Spirit.
Our Lord used many pulpits during His public life, such as Peter’s bark pushed into the sea, the mountaintop, the streets of Tyre and Sidon, the temple, the country road near a cemetery, and a banquet hall. But all faded into insignificance compared to the pulpit which He mounted now—the pulpit of the Cross. It was lifted slowly off the ground, wavered in midair for a moment, tearing and lacerating His Sacred Flesh; then suddenly with a deep thud that seemed to shake even hell itself, it sank into the pit prepared for it. Our Lord had mounted His pulpit for the last time.
Like all orators, He overlooked His audience. Far off, in Jerusalem, He could see the gilded roof of the temple, reflecting its rays against the sun which was soon to hide its face in shame. Here and there on temple walls He could catch a glimpse of those who were straining their eyes to see Him Whom the darkness knew not. At the edge of the crowd were timid followers, ready to flee in case of danger; there, too, were the executioners getting their dice ready to shake for His garments. Close to the Cross was the only Apostle present, John, whose face was like a cast moulded out of love; Magdalen was there too, like a broken flower, a wounded thing. But foremost among all —God pity her!—was His own mother. Mary, Magdalen, John; innocence, penitence, and priesthood; the three types of souls forever to be found beneath the Cross of Christ.