We don’t know how long it took for Jesus to die on the cross exactly, but the gospel accounts put it at 3 hours. You don’t need Mel Gibson’s horrible movie to tell you this was a painful death.
A crucifixion can actually be as short as 9 minutes and 29 seconds. Yes, even shorter--a crucifixion can be over in 5 minutes in the death chambers of American prisons where black men constitute 34% of those executed (since 1979), a significant portion of which in error. Crucifixion is more common than you would think.
There’s wholesale crucifixion, too, and when you’re talking about more than one person, it could take longer, although it only took the 2 minutes for that for the bomb to fall from the Enola Gay to crucify a city of 100,000. Normally, though, it takes longer. It took the Third Reich 10 years to crucify ⅔ of European Jewry. The United States holds the record--we spent 400 continuous years crucifying entire native nations. Crucifixion is more common than you would think.
During the Jewish wars against the Romans between 50 and 70 CE, there could be as many as 1000 crucifixions visible in and around Jerusalem at one time, historians say. Crucifixion is more common than you would think.
What is crucifixion besides state murder by any manner of termination? It is death of the manifestly innocent. Death without due process. Death with malice. Death by religious rationalization. And with those permissions, crucifixion is easier than you would think.
Does this observation cheapen the meaning of Christ’s crucifixion for us Christians and the world? What is left of Christ’s sacrifice if his unjust death is just one in so many?
This is what: we heard the prophet say once--
Behold my servant, my chosen, in whom my soul delights. I have put my spirit upon him, he will bring forth justice to the nations--and we saw Jesus.
We heard the prophet say, He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench--and we saw Jesus.
He will not fail or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth--and we saw Jesus. Christ’s cross speaks backwards in time and forward in time, giving voice to every innocent death whose voice died with their demise. Jesus’ death made the very stones cry out against wrongful death, whereas without him, that would have remained the norm.
We say Christ died for our sins--that also means BECAUSE of our sins. Without Christ, man’s inhumanity to man (as the proverb goes) would continue to be business as usual, without remorse, without recourse, without abatement.
Not only that, but Jesus revealed crucifixion to be humanity’s dehumanization of itself. The executioner says, I look at me, I see an animal, we are only human animals, don’t let’s expect more of ourselves. But the exception, of course, was the Roman centurion at the foot of Christ’s cross, who said that, truly, this was the Son of God.
Otherwise, all the executioner sees, with his knee on a neck, is a drug addict; all the prison warden sees is another con; all the bomber sees is little specks below; all anybody ever sees is the Other who has nothing to do with me. Jesus had to say from the cross for all of them, Forgive them, God, for they know not what they do.
But what then of all those promises in the Beatitudes?--when will we inherit the earth, when will we be satisfied, when will we be comforted, when will we see mercy, when will we see God--??
God’s promises are still worthy and valid--Jesus gave flesh and blood to the Lord’s plumbline, and in so doing, Jesus created a new baseline.
So, it’s out there, it’s been named, it’s why we say the arc of God’s universe bends toward justice. It was Jesus who made the world recognize that, if we must suffer in this life, let it be for righteousness’ sake. He is why we don’t give up hope, and why we keep faith. He is why we say with the prophet:
How beautiful upon the mountain (even though it be Golgotha), are the feet of him who brings good tidings, Who publishes peace, Who publishes salvation, Who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”