They call it collateral damage, the euphemistic, inoffensive, evasive term to describe the effects of the cruise missile strike, or the explosion from the barrel bomb: the unintended killing of innocent civilian mothers, fathers, and children who happened to be in the blast zone during the attack. A spokesman said “We are currently assessing the collateral damage in the aftermath of our mission.” Collateral damage: these babies, that young woman, that elderly grandfather, this teenage boy.
There is another term that the authorities dare not use: collateral beauty. It’s about the beauty that coexists with the darkness, the beauty that is revealed within the tragedy. It’s about the goodness that is never extinguished by the horror, life that indeed survives even death.
Collateral beauty. Collateral beauty.
It was born on a Friday morning over 2000 years ago. On that morning, the happy smiles and triumphant celebration of just a few days before had disappeared. There was fear and anger in the air, and the expectation that collateral damage was necessarily on its way.
After a tortuous and sleepless night, Jesus was brought into the center of the courtyard, where the soldiers disrobed him and then tied his hands above his head to a post leaving his back bare and his legs exposed. Another Roman soldier came out with the flagrum. This was a whip, with several strands of leather attached to it, and in the leather were shards of glass and metal balls which added to the weight.
The massive muscles of the soldier’s arms pulled backwards on the flagrum, and then directed it down with full force onto Jesus' bare back, ripping through the skin-- Jesus’ soft skin. Blow after blow, it began to cut through the subcutaneous tissue, exposing some of the veins, bursting and rupturing the capillaries under the skin and leaving blood oozing. Over and over and over again the whip was brought down on Jesus’ back, leaving ribbons of flesh hanging. The effect of the blows was similar to being stung by a scorpion, hence the flagrum’s other name of scorpia.
So hideous was the use of a flagrum as a form of punishment that the victim usually fainted and sometimes died before the actual execution could be carried out.
It was a torturous, torturous morning for Jesus.
After thebrutal beating, Jesus’s hands were untied, and he half-consciously fell and slumped to the floor.
At this point the soldiers, they saw a joke, they saw a joke in Jesus. They quickly grabbed a robe, and a crude stick representing a mock scepter, a ceremonial sign of authority. And they laughed when they put it in his hands, making him a pretend king.
They grabbed some thorn bushes and quickly weaved together a crown of these huge thorns, not gently placed. They thrust this crown of thorns onto the scalp of Jesus piercing the thin tissue on his forehead. Copious amounts of blood began to pour out and ooze into Jesus’ eyes, and at this point Jesus couldn’t see, and was barely alive, but forced, forced to do more.
Barely conscious, the soldiers attempted to make Jesus carry the weight of the 125 pound rough wooden patibulum, the horizontal crossbeam part of a cross. It scraped across his bare back and he fell over under it. He just couldn’t do it.
Desperate to get the crucifixion over with, the Roman soldiers grabbed Simon of Cyrene from the crowd. With all the onlookers yelling and cursing and spitting at Jesus, Simon was forced to carry the patibulum the rest of the 650 yards to Golgotha, down the road we know today as the Via Delorosa, the Way of Suffering.
The crucifixion was designed to be one of the most heinous and most brutal forms of punishment known to man at that time. It was excruciating, a term that literally means “out of crucifying”. It was usually intended to provide a death that was particularly slow, painful, gruesome, humiliating, and public, using whatever means were most expedient for that goal. Although artists have traditionally depicted the figure on a cross with a loin cloth or a covering of the genitals, the person being crucified was usually stripped naked, and some victims suffered a stick forced upwards through their groin. Frequently, the legs of the person executed were broken or shattered with an iron club. This act hastened the death of the person but was also meant to deter those who observed the crucifixion from committing crimes against the authorities.
The soldiers and the procession finally got to the top. They ordered Simon of Cyrene to lay the patibulum down on the ground.
Then Jesus was thrown bare back onto the splintering wood of the cross. The Roman soldiers stretched out his arms and they felt for the depressions in his wrist between the radius and the ulna--the two bones in the wrist--and they took the rusty nails and they began to drive them over and over again into his skin and into the knotted wood.
They pulled at his arms violently to dislocate his shoulders to make him stretch fully so they could secure him to the cross.
They took Jesus’ feet, bent them a little bit, and between the metatarsal bones and the foot, they drove the last rusty nail into the cross.
Death was near, but it certainly wasn’t finished.
As the cross was slowly erected, it was dropped into a two-foot hole, jerking Jesus’ body when it settled, and his bloody bare back scraped across the splintering wood.
As he hung there from his wrists and his feet, the nerves began to shoot back and forth and exploding amounts of pain began to overwhelm his brain and his body. He struggled to relieve the pain, straining and pushing off with his feet against the wood for a moment, until his strength gave out. He hung there, sagging on that cross, trying to hold himself together.
After hours of hanging on the cross, the muscles along his pectoral region around his ribs began to slowly cramp up. Jesus struggled to get air. While he could push himself against the wood and inhale, the muscles cramping there wouldn’t allow Jesus to exhale. With all the oxygen around him, he was slowly suffocating on the cross.
The end was near for Jesus. The skin of his face was purple and stained with his blood and his sweat and his tears. As his tortured body hung there, his heart struggled to pump thick, sluggish blood to the critical parts of his body. His lungs frantically panicked to get oxygen and air. He knew it was coming. He could feel the cold of death creeping through his veins. His body was now in extremis.
Finally his mission of atonement was complete. With one last surge of energy, Jesus pushed himself off the cross and exclaimed with his last breath: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Finally, it was finished.
And then a huge explosion, far bigger than one from the mother of all bombs, shook the very foundations of the planet, convulsed outward and upward, rocking the billions of galaxies that stretch out to the very end of the universe. For a moment the earth stopped spinning, the sun stopped shining, and a huge, icy wind blew across every desert, mountain, forest, field, and ocean. Every man, woman, and child; every bird, animal, fish, and insect; every tree, every bush, every flower, every blade of grass everything that was, shuddered and convulsed as the man on the cross, the “problem” for the religious and political powers of the day, was rendered as collateral damage.
But unbeknownst to all who stood frozen in that moment of time, they were beneficiaries of something that was beyond their comprehension: Collateral beauty.
And throughout all the days and years and centuries that have followed, throughout all the collateral damage to God’s creatures in every violent corner of this good earth—a sea of bloodshed, an ocean of sorrow and pain even unto this very day in our world---that single death on a cross gave birth to a beauty that transcends it all.
Collateral beauty that coexists with the darkness, the goodness that overcomes the horror, that survives even death.
Good, this Friday is.
It surrounds us, this beauty, this goodness, His goodness, and if you recognize it, it can almost break your heart with… gratitude.
Good, this Friday is, the day when collateral beauty was born.