Has partaking of Communion become a bit stale? Many of us go through the motions, but our emotions are somewhere else. Would Jesus want us to be moved by His physical sufferings, or would He want us to remember the gracious way He died—and lived—and be penetrated by that?
What if we were to consider Communion as a type of memorial service? I’ve never attended a memorial service for someone I knew and loved without my feelings flowing from my eyes. Seeing the photos, slideshows, and sometimes, video clips always makes me search my pockets for a tissue.
True. We don’t have videos of Jesus’ life, but we do have the four Gospels—and we have our imaginations. While we’re waiting to be served, we can turn some of the Gospel stories into pictures in our minds.
In remembering Jesus’ life and death, Ellen White encouraged us to use our mental ability of visualization. She reminded us that “we should take [Jesus’ life] point by point, and let the imagination grasp each scene, especially the closing ones.”
With that in mind, come with me as we mentally grasp some of those final scenes. Let’s transport ourselves back in time . . .
We’re just outside of Jerusalem on a barren, windswept hill called Golgotha. The raspy kaaa, kaaa of a raven clatters in the distance. A cloudless sky hangs like a dome overhead, and an unseasonably cold spring day causes us to shiver a bit. Jesus has just struggled up the hill, surrounded by soldiers and a crass mob. One of the soldiers orders Him to lie on the ground beside His cross. As He lies on the dirt, gravel grinding into His back, He stares up into the sky, and His mind reflects on this mission of self-sacrificing love:
Before this world had even been created, My Father, the Holy Spirit, and I developed the plan for what’s happening right now in case the freedom of choice that We gave Our beloved created beings should backfire. At first, Adam and Eve loved and trusted Us completely, but, sadly, they chose to believe Satan’s lies. This broke the circle of love and trust that had grown between us. With that, We knew that when the time was ripe, Our strategic plan must be enacted. And Our mission that began when I was born in Bethlehem has brought me here. The time is now.
Listening to the other crucifixion victims fighting against the duties of the Roman soldiers, hoping to delay their fate, Jesus is stirred with compassion. Poor guys. I feel sorry for them. Don’t they realize that fighting will only make things worse? I accept my fate. I won’t fight it. In fact, I gladly lay down My life because I am keeping My eyes on the glorious goal—the salvation of the human race.
Jesus’ mind goes back to Gethsemane, where less than 24 hours earlier, He had pled with His Father for an alternate solution to the problem of human sin. He remembers the despairing doubts that His enemy, the devil, flaunted in His face: It’s not worth it. No one cares. There are easier ways out.
But instantly, Jesus rejects the offer: No! I refuse to go there. I love these people! They’re worth it! These poor lost sheep in a vast wilderness of sin—they need a shepherd. They need Me! I will see this through—no matter the cost!
The soldiers pick Jesus up, place Him on the cross, and drive the nails through His hands and feet. He screams with each blow of the hammer, and He keeps repeating to Himself, I will see this through! I refuse to be crushed or overtaken with pain or fear!
But Satan doesn’t give up. “Your best friends abandoned You,” he whispers into Jesus’ ear. But Jesus pushes the thought away. I still have faith in them. The pain is awful, but I will not give in to despair!
The soldiers hoist the cross high into the air. With great force, they slam the cross down into a hole. Again, Jesus cries out in the most intense physical agony. Yet, He does not complain. His thoughts are always of others, not Himself.
I pity these unfortunate soldiers. It’s not their fault. They don’t have an inkling of who I am. If they only knew how much I love them. He whispers, “Father forgive them. They don’t understand. They don’t know what they’re doing” (see Luke 23:34).
His head hung low, Jesus sees only the ground. Demons circle the base of the cross like a pack of wolves gathering for a feeding frenzy. Lifting His head, He scans the crowd, and there he is—the archfiend in human form. Unheard by anyone but Jesus, with slithering cynicism, he mocks: “I offered you an easy way out. Look at You—You despicable, weak, and ineffective human! And You thought You and Your Daddy’s little plan would work? Huh! How’s that going for You right about now?”
Jesus refuses to respond or be drawn into Satan’s delusions. His only thoughts are focused on the lost sheep He came to save. I love them, I love them—I love them! I will sacrifice My life to save as many of them as I possibly can! Silently, He repeats the words to Himself over and over.
Under the devil’s spell, the religious leaders in the crowd begin mocking Jesus. “You helped so many others. Why don’t You come down off the cross and save Yourself? If You are really who You say you are . . .” (see Matthew 27:42).
Also railing on Him are two thieves, one on each side of His cross. But Jesus senses longing in the voice of the thief on His right, and He whispers a prayer: Spirit of My Father, draw this man to Yourself in these final moments of his life. And a moment later, He hears a voice calling to Him—a voice filled with both anguish and hope: “Lord, remember me when You come back with Your kingdom.”
When Jesus hears these words, His heart warms. At this last hour, there’s one lost sheep who wants to be saved. Deeply moved by the thief’s desperate plea, He responds in a voice full of love and compassion: “Absolutely! I tell you this very day that when I return, you will be with Me in paradise” (see Luke 23:43).
Once again, Jesus scans the crowd, and He sees her, His beloved mother. Gazing upon her face, He thinks, Dear Mother, I’m so sorry you have to see Me like this. I know how utterly painful this is for you. I remember when I was a Boy, all the times you cradled Me in your arms and sang sweet songs to Me. After I learned the words, we sang them together. We shared so many times of peace and joy. And now you have to bear an agony unlike any other woman ever will. And, realizing Mary’s need, Jesus acts on it.
Shifting His gaze to His disciple John, who is supporting her, Jesus calls out, “John, will you please look after My mother, Mary, and treat her as your own?” John nods in agreement. Jesus turns His gaze to His mother: “Mother, this is now your son” (see John 19:26, 27).
Shortly, murky billowing clouds begin blocking the sun’s rays. In mere moments, complete darkness hides the faces of His mother and John.
In the oppressive atmosphere, Jesus ponders, This black shroud magnifies the crushing weight that sin has imposed on this planet. I don’t dread death. I dread knowing the beings I created have become so familiar with sin that they can’t see its malignity. Why won’t they understand that it’s far more contagious than leprosy? They are immobilized against the infection, and they don’t even realize their own peril. Without accepting My healing love, they can’t break free from its power!
The guilt of every human being who ever lived and ever will live was pressing against His heart, holding it in a vice-grip. Oh, My Father! I’ve never experienced this burden of guilt before! Constant communication with You has kept Me clean. But now every sin that human beings have ever committed is pounding away at My life like a hammer! Father, where are You? With this horrendous guilt, I can’t find You. Where are You? Where are You? Why have You forsaken Me? I desperately need You! Have I become so saturated with the sickening disease of sin that You can no longer stand to be with Me?
The withdrawal of the divine countenance from Jesus in this hour of His supreme anguish pierced His heart with sorrow we sinners will never be able to fully understand. So great was this agony of His soul that He scarcely felt His physical pain!
Then Jesus cried out “It is finished!” And separated from the Source of His human life, He breathed His last. His head dropped to His chest, and He died.
Every time you and I eat the bread and drink the grape juice at a Communion service, we symbolically participate in Jesus’ death. It’s an opportunity for you and me to reflect on the meaning of His death, especially recognizing that He endured the agony of the cross for us. And may the death that He died inspire us to live the life of loving service that He lived!
Nancy Schafner is a freelance writer who lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, with her husband, Carl. She is an occasional contributor to Signs of the Times®.