“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

I have to anaesthetize myself to the physical torture and terror of the crucifixion. To really focus on nails smashing through limbs and the weight of a body hanging by those nails is to risk fainting or throwing up. I suspect I’m not alone.

More than a decade ago, Tennessee poet, Bill Brown, wrote of another torture, in words so stark that I avoided that poem for years. Yet, as I thought about these words of Christ, I was compelled to dig it out and re-read. Here is a part.

An old friend tells me
why he quit practicing
international law in Saudi.
It wasn’t just the weekly
executions, ten men with cloth
covered heads being shot, hung
or bludgeoned to death
in front of women and children.
It was this one case in Iraq
where the president ordered
wife and daughter to watch
as a steam roller crushed
the husband/father
in a body bag starting
at his feet, slowly moving
toward his head. …[1]

I spare you the rest.

This 2000-years-ago crucifixion, a story I have heard now for 55 years, can easily seem distant, mythic, unreal. So it helps me to bring it closer to home. To remember that torture and inhumanity are still with us today, and I don’t have to travel to Iraq. The black man in East Texas, dragged to death behind a car. The week old infant with multiple fractures just a few miles from this sanctuary.

It helps to imagine Christ incarnate inside that body bag, screaming “Father, forgive them!” Christ incarnate in that Texas black man, whispering “Father, forgive them.” Christ incarnate in that infant, moaning wordlessly his own prayer of forgiveness.

And then I run up against my own sorry record of forgiveness. My flashes of road rage. My sulking at real or imagined affronts. My fantasies of revenge. Father, forgive me.

[1] “Stories that Shouldn’t Be Told,” in What the Night Told Me by Bill Brown.