The Passover feast was over. One disciple left it early and vanished into the night. Later, Judas reappeared out of the shadows, no longer alone. He’d brought Temple police with him. Later, he threw the thirty pieces of silver back at the status quo. They laughed, and Judas could take it no longer. The pain was too great. The darkness too dark. How could Jesus ever forgive him?
Another disciple stood, rubbing his hands by a fire in the cold of the night. Three times, he vowed he did not know Jesus. And then in the cold gray dawn, a rooster crowed, and Peter remembered what Jesus had predicted. “Before the cock crows three times, you will betray me.” He wept for the memory of that. How could Jesus ever forgive him?
The other disciples had fled the Garden of Gethsemene and scattered through the dark streets of Jerusalem. Their world had turned upside down. A few hours ago, they had all been laughing, arguing, lifting glasses of wine, eating too much—in fact, by the time they went with Jesus to the Garden to pray, they found they were too sleepy to pray. But the clattering of swords, Judas’ drawn face appearing out of the shadows, that kiss, then the soldiers arresting their master—what had happened to turn this world upside down that quickly?
Jesus had said he would be handed over. And. . .put to death. Do you suppose?. . .No, it cannot be. He could not die. They knew he’d said you had to lose your life to find it. But wasn’t he talking in metaphors? And if. . .if Jesus was executed, what about them? Was it only a matter of time before soldiers showed up at the door and took them away?
Crucifixion was an ugly death. A long slow painful death where you didn’t die from the loss of blood as much as you died from asphyxiation. Your arms could not support the weight of your body without a lot of effort. And that effort shot daggers of pain all over your body.
It was almost over. A man dragged the crossbeam of his own death slowly through the narrow, stone streets of Jerusalem. When he fell for the third time, the soldiers grabbed a stranger, Simon of Cyrene, and made him carry it. They had no time for delays. Too many people to crucify on this day. This one wasn’t fighting them, but he was weak, as if all the life had already left him. As if he carried the weight of the world already on his shoulders, and the crossbeam just was too much.
The noon sun blazed, hot and shadowless, over a group of crosses. The one in the center was the one that mattered most. From the edges of the old rock quarry, his mother and Magdalene and the beloved disciple and then, a few others who appeared, watched. From a distance, they watched, and waited, and wept.
His mother spoke, as if she were in a dream: “It only seems like yesterday that I was holding him for the first time. . .that night in Bethlehem. . .” She fell silent.
It was over. He was gone.
“A stable lamp is lighted whose glow shall wake the sky;
the stars shall bend their voices, and every stone shall cry.
and every stone shall cry, and straw like gold shall shine;
A barn shall harbor heaven, a stall become a shrine.
This child through David’s city shall ride in triumph by;
The palm shall strew its branches and every stone shall cry;
And every stone shall cry, though heavy, dull, and dumb,
And lie within the roadway to pave his Kingdom come.
The sky shall grown and darken, and every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry, for stony hearts of men:
God’s blood upon the spearhead, God’s love refused again.
But now, as at the ending, the low is lifted high;
The stars shall bend their voices, and every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry, in praises of the Child
by whose descent among us the worlds are reconciled.”
Hymn #104 in Hymnal 1982
Text by Richard Wilbur, Music Andajar by David Hurd
© The Rev. Sheila N. McJilton