Friday, June 15, 2012

Broken bones and broken hearts

The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken , and that they might be taken away. Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs: But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe. For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken. And again another scripture saith, They shall look on him whom they pierced.
St John xix.31-37
Why is it so important to us that Our Lord's bones weren't broken? We have the prophecies of the Old Testament: Psalm xxxiv.20 tells us, "He keepeth all his bones: not one of them is broken" and  from Zechariah xii.10
"And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced , and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn."
Thia might seem like a good prophecy about Our Lord's heart being pierced, but wait! What about:
"Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice ." (Psalm li.8)
"Israel is a scattered sheep; the lions have driven him away : first the king of Assyria hath devoured him; and last this Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon hath broken his bones ." (Jeremiah l.4)
"My flesh and my skin hath he made old ; he hath broken my bones." Lamentations iii.4.
Why don't these work as prophecy for Christ's suffering? Is the Bible covering both bases. If they had broken Jesus' legs would these verses be trotted out as Biblical "proof"?

What is very interesting is that the broken bones all refer to the consequences of sin and the concomitant punishment. David was punished for his adultery and his repentance is summed up in Psalm li. In Jeremiah, Israel is punished by her apostasy and her bones are broken by the Babylonians.

What is more interesting is the passage from Lamentations. For the majority of the book, the "I" refers to Israel toiling and labouring in the exile and yet we read of more Biblical prophecies of Christ's sufferings, "Is it nothing to you...?", "the wormwood and gall". Again, the bones are broken as the result of Israel's transgressions. The breaking of bones is the punishment of the guilty.

Now if we look at the suffering of Our Lord, perhaps we begin to see the significance of what He has done for us. His bones are not broken because He has no sin, yet it is his desire to identify himself with transgressors. This points to a deep fact about the atonement: God does not punish Jesus instead of us; Jesus takes the inevitable punishment of our sins upon Himself willingly. As we watch the jeering of the crowd around the cross, we see folk so infected with sin that they don't know what's they are doing! No wonder our rebuke breaks His heart. In fact, it does so literally with the point of a spear.

Further, we may also see the bones as being a type of the Covenant which we have with God. Human beings continually break the Covenant and suffer as a result of it in the same way that we suffer when we break bones. The only human being who does battle with the Devil and survives without breaking bones is Christ. It is the soft flesh of His heart that is broken in His compassion for us.

It is through this wound that we enter into Christ Himself. What a price!

1 comment:

neowagnerite said...

A truly Catholic expression of the Doctrine of the Atonement--and also thoroughly Anglican. Thank you so much!

Fr. Cyril Crume