The Gospel of Luke testifies, “Then Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit,’ and when he had said this he breathed his last.” This new painting captures the center of this sentence; the moment between that last word and when His breath escaped his lips. The painful writhing is coming to an end and His Body begins to relax upon the nails that pin it to the Cross elongating His wrists. We see the hands in the process of unclutching, giving into the pressure caused by the spikes driven through them and the downward weight of the body, exposing the dirt on their palms that was ground into them when they were thrust forward to protect Our Savior when He fell while carrying His Cross.
Jesus’ face, which a moment ago was twisted in agony, now goes through a transformation as the pain lessens with the onset of death. Though the depiction of the sky reminds us that “darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon,” a heavenly light falls upon Jesus’ face. Is it just now that He begins to see His Father’s loving countenance? We are half a heartbeat from death, halfway through the sentence in St. Alphonsus Ligouri’s twelfth station of the Cross, “And abandoning Himself to the weight of His body, bows His head and dies.”
Already the events that followed Christ’s death, portrayed in the Gospel of Matthew, begin to infringe upon the scene. “The earth quaked, rocks were split, tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints that had fallen asleep were raised.” In the Old Testament, the coming of God is frequently portrayed with the imagery of an earthquake and Jesus speaks of the earthquakes that will accompany the “labor pains” that signify the beginning of the dissolution of the old world. The ground begins to crack open starting at the base of the Cross and snaking out toward the bottom right of the painting. The wind begins to pick up curling the proclamation nailed to the top of the Cross and a flash of lightning streaks over the city heightening the imagery of the disturbance of the elements. “Surely this was the Son of God.”
This is the moment everything changes, a match in the process of being struck, the glass striking the tile floor but before it begins to crack. In this moment, like a specter, a skull appears at the base of His Cross. It reminds us of the transitory nature of this life, it tells us this place is Golgotha, “the place of the skull,” and lastly, reminds us that Christ, the second Adam, was crucified over the bones of the first Adam, making a fitting ending to our estrangement from heaven. “And so it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam a life giving spirit’” 1 Corinthians 15:45)