you know, each week this flock note has been dedicated to a
commentary on the readings for Sunday. Since this week the reading is
the Passion, and I personally believe it should stand alone. It
preaches itself. I was left with a bit of a dilemma. What do I offer
for Passion Sunday? Then I remembered that I had a piece in my files
that would work as a meditation on the Passion of Our Lord.
as we come now to the great events of the death of Our Lord, I offer
you as a meditation for Holy Week a bit of historical fiction.
This little piece I call the “Coroner’s Report.” In
actuality, ancient Romans and Jews never had such people to
investigate a death. To the best of my knowledge, medical
forensic investigations are fairly modern. The terminology used in
this piece reflect our contemporary notions, but they are placed in
the historical setting of the first century. Next week, for Easter
Sunday, I’ll offer a follow-up on this week’s reflection.
The Coroner's Report
Execution of the accused took place
shortly after midday. The exact time of death was not immediate
because the accused was put to death following the Roman custom of
crucifixion. Those condemned to this form of execution are seen by
the authorities to be the worst form of social malcontents.
Since the time of their slave rebellion under Spartacus in the
last century, this form of execution has been used to eliminate, in a
slow and agonizing death, any non-citizen who was seen to be a threat
to state security.
This is why the accused did not meet
his end immediately. What is somewhat remarkable though is the fact
that his death took only about three hours. Many times, death by
crucifixion takes considerably longer, even days. In this case, due
to the fact that he was tortured by the lash -- according to guards
he was given 39 stripes -- and given the fact that he was severely
mistreated, beaten, and made to carry his own cross, it is
understandable, again due to his weakened condition that he survived
on the cross for about three hours.
What is also good to note is that
this crucifixion was carried out in what can only be called a severe
fashion. Rather than simply tying the accused to the cross and
waiting for him to eventually suffocate, this prisoner was nailed to
his cross. Some may argue that this form of crucifixion is more
lenient because it brings about a loss of blood that causes the
accused to weaken faster and thus die more quickly. Such arguments
though seem strained when one considers the degree of pain involved.
The prisoner, while fighting for life, must not only deal with
physical weakness, but must also bear the trauma of torn flesh and
This kind of a intense pain could
create increased awareness and heightened consciousness of one’s
surroundings. Of course, such a traumatic occurrence could also
decrease awareness and bring on systemic shock causing a loss of
consciousness. But, since the accused did not lose consciousness
until almost the moment of death according to eye witness accounts,
we must subscribe to the probability that the prisoner felt his pain
most severely. Whatever the time of duration or the suffering
involved, it can surely be said that this execution took close to
As to the exact cause of death, this
is not easy to determine. The prisoner in question lost a great deal
of blood, so the cause of death may have been due to either
strangulation as was the case of the two crucified with him.
Or, it could have been cardiac arrest. The exact cause remains
undetermined. In any event we can put the time of death at about the
ninth hour of the day or three hours after midday.
The death occurred on the day of
preparation for the Passover, which in this year is the 14th day of
the month of Nisan during the tenure of Caiaphas as high priest and
Pontius Pilate as Roman Procurator of Judea. This concludes the
official medical report on the death of the prisoner Jesus of
Nazareth. It is dutifully submitted to the Sanhedrin and the office
of the Procurator.