April 10, 2009



By Jennifer Halteman Schrock, Merry Lea public program coordinator
SCRIPTURE: Mark 15:1-39 (NRSV) Scroll down for complete Scripture.

DEVOTIONAL: This year I am reading the crucifixion story through the lens of an unknown photographer’s camera. One of my responsibilities as a member of the Lenten planning committee at Berkey Avenue Mennonite Church, has been to choose visual images to project during the scripture readings. For me, these kinds of juxtapositions are a form of Bible study that can break open the text in new ways.

Photographs from Abu Ghraib
One of the most widely disseminated photographs from Abu Ghraib, the Iraqi prison where U.S. military personnel tortured and shamed prisoners in 2004. The man in this image is balancing on a box with wires attach to his extended palms and has reportedly been told he will be electrocuted if he falls off the box.

This image is from the Wikimedia Commons, a freely licensed media file repository.

With the pastor’s sermons in hand, I searched for images to pair with Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion. Certainly there were many traditional paintings to choose from. One particularly jarring representation is Matthais Grunwald’s Crucifixion, which shows Christ with lacerated skin and lips already blue from asphyxiation.

However, I found myself drawn to a more recent time and place: Abu Ghraib, the Iraqi prison where U.S. military personnel tortured and shamed prisoners in 2004. One of the most widely disseminated photographs from this ghastly chapter of the Iraq War is a fuzzy snapshot of a man with a pointed black hood, balancing on a box in a black cape. Wires attach to his extended palms and he has reportedly been told he will be electrocuted if he falls off the box.

Could this man’s experience teach me something about the story at the center of my faith? Does Jesus’ crucifixion speak to what happened at Abu Ghraib? I reread the sermon I was working from. “Polite upperclass Romans would not talk about crucifixions; they were just too awful to speak about,” the sermon said. That checked out. This was the only photograph from Abu Ghraib I would even consider sharing publicly.

I turned to Mark 14 and 15. Previously, I’d read Jesus’ trial before the high priest (Mark 14:53-65) as an argument between annoying relatives engaged in doctrinal hairsplitting. This time their debate emerged as a sinister interrogation, manipulative and cruel. The randomness of Pilate’s justice chilled me; the blindfold in Mark 14:65 was a blow to the solar plexus, and Jesus’ lack of control over his clothing made my teeth chatter. The beatings, the slapping, the jeering were no longer contained in a tidy three-day package with a happy ending. They sprawled over 2000 years.

It seems that God is well acquainted with places like Abu Ghraib. This Holy Week, may the suffering that Christ endured while on trial as a “terrorist” fill us with compassion. Let us remember those who still suffer violence and torture. Let the rage we feel against hatred and cruelty be refined into acts of mercy and courageous defiance.

SCRIPTURE: Mark 15:1-39 (NRSV)

As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ He answered him, ‘You say so.’ Then the chief priests accused him of many things. Pilate asked him again, ‘Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.’ But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.

Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. Then he answered them, ‘Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?’ For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. Pilate spoke to them again, ‘Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?’ They shouted back, ‘Crucify him!’ Pilate asked them, ‘Why, what evil has he done?’ But they shouted all the more, ‘Crucify him!’ So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. And they began saluting him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.

It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, ‘The King of the Jews.’ And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!’ In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.’ Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.

When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘Listen, he is calling for Elijah.’ And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.’ Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’



Comments (25)

  1. This is far and away the most powerful and provocative approach to the scripture I have ever seen! Thank you for being bold and strident by publishing this. I am a Presbyterian clergywoman living in Palestine/Israel where my husband and I are in charge of six young adults from USA who are voluteering for a year. I am going to forward this to them. God is still weeping.

    Shadra Shoffner April 10, 2009 |
  2. One of the most powerful devotions this season. Yes, Good Friday is always with us and we seem bent on recreating it whenever we can.

    Pam April 10, 2009 |
  3. What a powerful, thought-provoking devotional today–and everyday during Lent. I truly wish these daily devotionals were year round, not just Advent and Lent, but I’ll take what I can get from Goshen College in the way of Daily Devotions! I look forward to opening this email every morning! Thank you all for the spreading of the Gospel in this manner!!!!

    Bonnie Sowers April 10, 2009 |
  4. Thank you for bringing the words and images of the crucifixion into the 21st century. Unless we see the death and resurrection as more than assuring our own personal salvation, it remains parochial and limited; when we see them in terms of the suffering of the world, then they become a call to repentance and action.
    Sad, isn’t it… I just saw, for the first time, the beautiful fabric used for such a horrid deed– a modern version of that purple robe I suppose…

    Rev Elizabeth Griffin April 10, 2009 |
  5. Oh my, how I needed this devotion today.

    Jim Hardenbrook April 10, 2009 |
  6. All of the reflections have been very good and much appreciated. However, this one has been the most moving and the most appropriate. It has moved me to tears and prayer. Thank you.

    Jean April 10, 2009 |
  7. Turning the other cheek: who will be first. Not I said the world. I will said I am. Very thought provoking and troubling to say the least, yet a blessing at the same moment. i too would like to see the daily tradition of devotionals begun that would carry through the year.
    We as a country could have turned the other cheek in this instance and on the world stage made a statement that would still be resonanting. (I refer to 9-11).

    Randy Springer April 10, 2009 |
  8. Thought-provoking. Thank you. God loves us all. A simple message that is sometimes hard to believe. We all will truly benefit, everyone of us, when we see each and every one as a child of God.

    Madeline Gottemoeller April 10, 2009 |
  9. I have been “fed” by all the Lenten devotionals; this one, however, grasped me in a way like no other. I wouldn’t have thought to make the connection to this particularly shameful episode in our history, and I am still sadly pondering this. Thank you for this powerful reflection.

    Martha April 10, 2009 |
  10. thank you for this meditation. I follows somewheat what we have been trying to do at home and with friends- counting backward the stations of the cross and giving a day to each- including a day for Holy Thursday

    pAT April 10, 2009 |
  11. This brought tears to my eyes. What a chilling and striking take on the crucifixion story. The images from Abu Ghraib and so many more sites around the world have numbed too many of us–desensitized us.

    Your juxtaposition of that photo and the story of Christ’s trial and crucifixion indicts all of us who wearily view the latest tragedies and abuses of power with resigned acquiescence.


    Tim Richerson April 10, 2009 |
  12. I will think about this Good Friday meditation for a long time! Thank you for reminding us of present day torture even as we reflect on the crucifixion of Jesus and our response to it.

    Marjorie Neufeld April 10, 2009 |
  13. The crucifixion of Christ – a pacifist – is juxtaposed against the release of man called Barabbas who had committed murder during the insurrection… “How unjust!” we polite upper crust Christians cry. From the comfort of our climate controlled offices we polite upper crust Christians again cry, “How unjust!” at the uncivilized interrogation technique of a terrorist who possibly had committed murder during the insurrection. Do we miss the point of the crucifixion if we attempt to equate “our” understanding of justice in this scenario? As I suspect, the Abu Ghraib interrogators were also people of faith – seeking justice.

    David Kaufman April 10, 2009 |
  14. This was a powerful devotion for today. I had a new sense of how the horror of the cross continues today even tho we claim to be more civilized.
    Thank you for this suitably profound message for this day.

    ann April 10, 2009 |
  15. thank you so much! this touched my heart

    Kathy April 10, 2009 |
  16. Friday’s devotion was jarring to say the least. I am passing it on to others to connect what Christ did willingly to what others have been made to endure

    Karen April 10, 2009 |
  17. I am feeling ill right now, and heartsick, and I am wondering, as I often do, what would I have done if I had been at the foot of the cross, and what would I have done if I lived in the village of Dachau or worked in the prison at Abu Ghraib. After all He has taught us, how blind we still are.

    Judy April 10, 2009 |
  18. The most powerful and thought provoking devotion ever!! Thank you!!

    Doreen April 11, 2009 |
  19. My wife and I spent Holy Friday mostly in silence and fasted from the internet so this devotion was more powerful coming out of that silence this Holy Saturday morning and will carry over into the Easter Vigil this evening and Easter Sunday celebrations. Thank you for keeping us grounded in the unfortunate reality of our world.

    Gary April 11, 2009 |
  20. Somehow I still believe that the pupose of these holy days is to keep the focus on the sufferings of Our Lord…not to imprint it on contemporary media images, and compose a parallel that does not exist.

    Jane Kohler April 11, 2009 |
  21. thank you for bravely calling these images together. peace stu

    Rev. Stu Buisch April 11, 2009 |
  22. This devotion really helped me to understand how I like to read te gospel of Mark 14 & 15… It was so clear!
    I used your whole story in my medtiation on Good Friday in Ecumenical Church De Ark in Hoofddorp (The Netehrlands).
    I also mentioned it in my Eastern sermon.
    Thanks a lot!
    Some of the devotions impressed me a lot! The last one too!
    Rien Wattel , minister of Ecumenical Church De Ark (The Arche), Hoofddorp-The Netherlands

    Rien Wattel April 12, 2009 |
  23. Pwerful inagery! Thank you for your sensitive meditaation on Good Friday .

    Esther Heatwole April 12, 2009 |
  24. [...] Jennifer Halteman Schrock’s full reflection here. This is a striking photograph, and one that belies an even more striking reality. It reminds me [...]

    Abu Ghraib Crucifixion « zoecarnate April 19, 2009 |
  25. I alawys remember that if I was theon;y 1 then GOD would have still done it for me then Iask myself who would have done it to HIM the answer is always me and I think that if any CHRISTIAN SAYS THEY WOULD NOT HAVE THEN THEY LIE

    daniel. April 21, 2009 |