Joe Woodruff

His Final Breath, Alive in Me

Rose Hartwick Thorpe writes of a soldier who was condemned to die by execution at the ringing of the curfew bell. The soldier was engaged to be married to a young woman named Bessie. The sexton, old and deaf, prepared to pull the rope to ring the bell; Bessie climbed to the top of the belfry, reached out and then clung to the tongue of the huge bell. As the sexton rang the bell, Bessie was smashed against it, moving her body each time in order to silence the bell. As the tongue finally ceased its swinging, Bessie painfully descended from the tower. As General Cromwell demanded to know why the bell had not rung, Bessie approached him and confessed to her deed in words captured by the poet:

At his feet she told her story

Showed her hands all bruised and torn;

And her sweet, young face, still haggard

With the anguish it had worn;

Touched his heart with sudden pity

Lit his eyes with misty light

“Go, your lover lives,” said Cromwell,

“Curfew will not ring tonight.”

As Jesus stood among the Roman guards, a single blow strikes him, and then more blows. Fists and kicks rain upon him. Inhumanity assaults his humanity. His clothes are stripped and he is tied to a post. The soldier takes a whip of braided thongs. Metal balls and sharp bone is woven into them. The balls punish him, causing deep bruising and contusions. The thorns rip open flesh. Deep cuts run along his shoulders, buttocks and back of legs. His spine is exposed, visible through his shredded back, lacerations producing quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh, veins laid bare. Only when death is near does the beating stop. Shock from blood loss ensues: the heart races to pump absent blood; fainting and collapse follow dropping blood pressure; kidneys fail to produce urine and great thirst sets in.

A crown of thorns is placed on him, though placed is too mild a word: Large, sharp, stiff, curved thorns are shoved and embedded in his head.

His exposed backside is laid down and his hands nailed in outstretched fashion. Spikes five to seven inches long, tapered to a sharp point, drive through the median nerve of his wrist, squeezing and crushing it, locking his wrists in place. After he is hoisted and the crossbar is attached to the vertical stake, nails drive through his feet. Being lifted up stretches his arms and dislocates his shoulders.

As his arms fatigue, waves of cramps wash over his muscles.  His pectoral muscles are paralyzed. He draws in air but cannot exhale. He fights to lift himself in order to breathe out, but in doing so the nails tear through the foot and lock up against tarsal bones.

Carbon dioxide is dissolved into carbonic acid which leads to irregular heartbeat. Fluid collects in the membrane around the heart and lungs. The soldier thrusts a spear into the side of Jesus, through his lung and into his heart. The built up fluid spills out accompanied by a large amount of blood. He has died of cardiac arrest. Jesus dies of a broken heart, but only after declaring “It is finished.”

Everything God in Christ intended for us was fulfilled and accomplished. Death vanquished in the Great One’s death. The devil and his host stripped of power. Our stain of sin cleansed. Our separation from God bridged. Jesus lays our pardon at our feet. 

Curfew will not ring for us tonight.