“Punch him. Kick him. Crucify Him!”

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What does a young woman’s self-defense class have to do with our Lord’s harrowing journey to the cross? I posted this essay last year and it remains one of my most popular to date.  Find out why…

Every year with the arrival of Holy Week, I endeavor to place myself in the unfolding drama of our Lord’s incomprehensible path to Calvary. It is an extremely fruitful and therefore established devotion of prayer in preparation for the holiest days of the year. And no doubt, the Church in Her wisdom understands our need to unite in Christ’s suffering especially at this solemn time leading up to Jesus’ resurrection. So we pray the stations of the cross, we meditate on the most sorrowful mysteries of the Holy Rosary, and during the Mass on Palm Sunday, we even get to play a role in the gospel’s Passion, interjecting vitriolic phrases like,

“Crucify Him. Crucify Him!”

Were more cringe-worthy words ever uttered? As a child, I remember whispering those lines because they were just too ugly to say with gusto. As much as I still dislike reciting them now, I  understand the value of trying to be present with Christ and feel the onus of my sinfulness. Like it or not, we actually play a part of that fateful scene over 2000 years ago.

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When I was in college, a friend of mine was enrolled in a model mugging course. She was a super “girly girl” who was forever urging me to “just try a little eyeshadow.”  “What about this silver? It’s so pretty.” She never got much traction with this tomboy. So, when she signed up for a rough and tumble self-defense program that promised to whip her into shape and give her herculean strength in the event of an attack, I was surprised. The course emphasized putting young women in real-life situations. They enlisted large, burly men to role-play the attackers. Many of the volunteer aggressors had friends or family members who had been victimized, so they took it very seriously. They did not pull any punches.

Several months later, my friend invited me to a graduation ceremony of sorts. There were no diplomas, but each student was presented with her own moment to fend off a “surprise” attack. Before the drama unfolded, the instructor asked the audience for our help. She recommended we cheer on our loved ones as they took down their would-be attacker. We were urged to clap and shout LOUDLY. It was even suggested we yell, “Kick him! Punch him! etc.” They wanted the words and swells of sounds cemented in each woman’s mind. If an attempted assault ever took place, she would hopefully replay those phrases and chants in her head as she fought off her assailant—a personal soundtrack for an adrenaline rush, if you will. They would recall the loud voices of their friends urging them to fight with everything in them as they faced off a rapist.

I will never forget the moment my petite friend sashayed across the matted gym floor, while one of the volunteer attackers, suited in a ridiculously giant helmet and huge body armor, waited to pounce. Just the size differential was ridiculous. He dwarfed her. My breath caught as he bounded on her. Out of the depths of my soul, I heard myself screaming,

“Get him! GET HIM! Kick him in the HEAD—in the NECK! TAKE HIM DOWN. Beat the CRAP out of him!”

In the middle of the tumult, my taste for blood startled me. I was moved to tears as I considered those ugly, mean-spirited words. It was all so confusing. Of course, I wanted my friend to fight back, but at the same time, I was deeply saddened that this even had to take place. Why? Why did this cute-as-a-button young woman need encouragement to kick someone in the skull? And why did I suddenly crave another human being’s destruction? Though I would not have been able to articulate it at the time, I understood at that moment in a profound way that we lived in a fallen world.

Over the next several days of Holy Week, I will try to situate myself with Jesus as He sweats blood in His agony, as His flesh is mercilessly scourged, and as He shoulders the crippling cross weighed down by my sins. It’s then I will recall those sickening, yet necessary words, “Crucify Him!” As wicked as they may be, they are a requisite part of our salvation. But I will forever struggle with the fact that our Lord willingly laid down His life and was viciously murdered for the same people who cried for His annihilation. Such unfathomable love is both exhilarating and upsetting. 

My kids regularly ask me, “If it’s the day Jesus died, why do we call it Good Friday?” Their young minds already grasp the shameful horrors Christ endured. Yet it is truly good that Jesus suffered ridicule, torture and ultimately death for us. He did so to defeat death and sin and to make us children of the King. In providing us this sacrificial death we have our own powerful soundtrack to recall when faced with the inevitable suffering and attacks of this world. Inscribed on our minds are the tragic, heartbreaking scenes from the Passion of Our Lord. We must recall all that He endured for our sake. When we are tested, His passion remains. 

At the conclusion of the graduation, I hugged my friend, trying to hide my puffy, red eyes. She would always be vulnerable in this world. One self-defense class could not stem the tide of violence. But she had taken part in something that would prepare and strengthen her for those eventualities. She had faced the darkness with courage and strength and come out transformed.

In the same way, as Christians, we must confront the darkness of sin and death alongside our mighty Redeemer. May we journey with Him to ultimate Victory.

A blessed Holy week to you!

*1st Photo by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash

*2nd Photo by Christoph Schmid on Unsplash

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