STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Eleven — Jesus Is Nailed To The Cross, by Henri Nouwen

stations of the cross nouwen

From Walk With Jesus

ASudanese man is dying.  He is alone.  He has no name.  He is one of the many dying in a large hospital.  He is number 42.  The intravenous tube is like his last lifeline.  But it won’t save him.  All his strength is gone.  His thin arms and emaciated shoulders reveal how far spent he is.  Everyone around him knows that his last hours have come.  He, too, knows it, but he is not afraid.  Life has not been easy for him.  It has been a life of poverty, many battles, and few victories. He was afraid of sickness and pain.  But he is at peace with the knowledge that it soon will be over.

People are dying every day, every hour, every minute.  They die suddenly or slowly.  They die on the streets of big cities or in comfortable homes.  They die in isolation or surrounded by friends and family.  They die in great pain or as if falling asleep.  They die in anguish or in peace.  But all of them die alone, facing the unknown.  Dying is indeed a reality of daily life.  And yet, the world generally goes about its business disowning this reality.  Dying is often a hidden event, something to ignore or deny.  The Sudanese man, however, expresses the truth of life.  All of life comes to an end.  Dying belongs to living.


Jesus was nailed to the cross, and for three hours he was dying.  He died between two men.  One of them said to the other: “We are paying for what we did.  But this man has done nothing wrong,” (Luke 23:41). Jesus lived his dying completely for others.  The total exhaustion of his body, the abandonment by his friends, and even of his God, all became the gift of self.  And as he hung dying in complete powerlessness, nailed against the wood of a tree, there was no bitterness, no desire for revenge, no resentment.  Nothing to cling to.  All to give.  “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the Earth and dies.  It remains only a single grain, but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest,” (John 12:24).  By being given away for others, his life became fruitful.  Jesus, the completely innocent one, the one without sin, without guilt, without shame, died an excruciatingly painful death in order that death no longer would have to be ignored, but could become a gateway to life and the source of a new communion.


As we look at the dying Jesus, we see the dying world.  Jesus, who on the cross drew all people to himself, died millions of deaths.  He died not only the death of the rejected, the lonely, and the criminal, but also the death of the high and powerful, the famous and the popular.  Most of all, he died the death of all the simple people who lived their ordinary lives and grew old and tired, and trusted that somehow their lives were not in vain.

We all must die.  And we all will die alone.  No one can make that final journey with us.  We have to let go of what is most our own and trust that we did not live in vain.  Somehow, dying is the greatest of all human moments because it is the moment in which we are asked to give everything.  The way we die has not only much to do with the way we have lived, but also with the way that those who come after us will live.  Jesus’s death reveals to us that we do not have to live pretending that death is not something that comes to all of us.  As he hangs stretched out between Heaven and Earth, he asks us to look our mortality straight in the face and trust that death does not have the last word.  We can then look at the dying in our world and give them hope; we can hold their dying bodies in our arms and trust that mightier arms than ours will receive them and give them the peace and joy they always desire.

In dying, all of humanity is one.  And it was into this dying humanity that God entered so as to give us hope.

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