Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, ‘None of his bones shall be broken.’ And again another passage of scripture says, ‘They will look on the one whom they have pierced.’ (John 19.31-37)
So the other two men were still alive after Jesus had died. The clock had kept on ticking for them and the agony had continued. The repentant thief saw Jesus die and knew that he was making a welcome ready for him in his kingdom. But too much time had been wasted already on this and the Sabbath was approaching.
So the soldiers come along and break the legs of those who are still alive. Crucifixion kills in the end through asphyxiation. The one crucified no longer has the strength to haul their body up to take a breath. Whilst the body hangs from the arms the chest is crushed and you cannot breath. So if you break the legs then the person crucified can no longer raise themselves up and so they choke and die.
But Jesus was dead already. So just to make sure they push a spear, a lance into his side and out flows blood and water. Might this be a sacramental sign to us? There are two Dominical Sacraments as they are called – sacraments ordained by the Lord – baptism and the Eucharist. Perhaps John, in his gospel, is pointing us to these sacraments flowing from the side of Christ.
Or perhaps it is a reminder to us that in the person of Christ we find humanity and divinity perfectly balanced, in perfect harmony. Jesus is fully man and fully God and out of his one side blood and water flow. It reminds me of the prayer that the priest says as water and wine are mixed in the chalice at the Eucharist.
By the mystery of this water and wine
may we come to share in the divinity of Christ
who humbled himself to share in our humanity.