Being crucified, or put up to die on perpendicular wooden planks, was the harshest sentence in Roman days. This form of death was very painful, and the process went on for a very long time.
A person who was put to death on a cross was usually afoul of the law for a capital crime or committing a serious offense, and it was the ultimate sentence a person could receive. It is then important to remember the impression that a cross would convey – an impression of ultimate pain and suffering on earth.
Even in contemporary terms, crucifixion still stands out as uniquely cruel. There are many current newspaper reports of people being tortured or subject to brutal interrogation techniques, but few of these reports compare to the pain and suffering one would be subject to on the cross.
Stripped, suffering wounds from beatings, nailed to coarse wood with arms and legs mutilated, exposed to elements and creatures, and hanging for hours or even days until your life slowly left you is an image that haunts the imagination in any time or society. Such punishment is or should be reserved for a person full of evil, a person who has defiled and mutilated humankind without remorse. In other words, a person who has forfeited their role as part of the human family.
In contrast, punishing a just person, someone who healed and guided people, someone who demonstrated love to everyone, would be the ultimate injustice carried out, and an apparent triumph of evil. The victory of the cross is easy to miss.
Yet it is not just the conquest of evil that Christians celebrate on the cross, but the great offering of a loving father, our father. He who sought to show his love for us, to forgive us for all our offenses, sacrificed his unblemished son so that one day we could all hear of his love and step closer to him.
The cross was also a reminder for all Romans, a very stern warning, to avoid making the same mistakes or they too would face the same punishment. Displaying the cross in public was a deterrent against future transgression or it was supposed to be at least. Instead, it turned out to be quite a motivator for all members of the church to take up their own crosses and spread the word of this injustice against God’s only son.
What Christians must commit to memory is that wearing a crucifix does not make one clean or protect that person from injury. The purpose of the crucifix is to serve as a silent reminder. It is a reminder of God’s love for all people and his greatest sacrifice. It also reminds us of the wickedness within us that, if not constrained, could go on a rampage and demolish everything beautiful in its path.
For Christians, the cross is reminder of the price of life and the limitless reach of love.