I had no tears left. The Messiah hung on a cross, broken and bleeding; hardly different in appearance from the two criminals hanging on either side of him. Except Jesus wore that horrific crown made from thorns, a reminder of the treatment he received before they nailed him there. They mocked him, spit on him, whipped him; and that was only what I witnessed with my own eyes. Father God only knows what they did behind closed doors. Angry shouts, jeering voices, and despairing cries filled the air.
But at noon, night fell, as if someone had snatched the sun out of the sky. At a time of day when it was normally shining its brightest, giving off the most heat, the sun had disappeared completely, leaving us in a blackness that felt thick and heavy. An eerie silence overtook the crowd, and Mary Magdalene and I linked hands as we moved closer to each other. As the exclaims and cries of surprise at the unexplainable darkness faded, we stood quietly facing the gruesome scene, our eyes adjusting to the inky gloom.
Standing with us were those who mocked him and wanted to see the end; those who loved him and wished to support him during his wrongful death; and those who were curious, who had heard of this Jesus of Nazareth, but had not come to know him like Mary and I. Our tears silently washed our faces in the darkness. We knew who he was. We loved him.
My feet and legs ached from standing for hours, but I would not sit down. Jesus deserved my respect and adoration right to the end. His love had changed my life and the lives of so many who stood with me. I only had to look into the eyes of the woman grasping my hand to see a soul that had been rescued from the brink of Hell, saved from the torture of demons inhabiting her body. How could they do this to a man who did nothing but love others and heal their minds and bodies? Fresh tears filled my eyes once more as I reflected on his goodness and gentleness, not only towards me and my friends, but to everybody that he met. The poor, the sick, the broken; he touched them all. And now we stood, shoulder to shoulder, a vigil like no other; the darkness an appropriate backdrop.
A ripple of murmuring stirred me from my reverie. Jesus had lifted his head. His voice echoed across the valley, cutting through the inky air.
“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
My heart broke at that moment. How he must have felt, hanging there as the life drained out of him, compounded now with his own Father’s refusal to intervene. God could have stopped this. If everything Jesus had told us was true, saving his son from this horrible death would be easy. He is a God of miracles, all-powerful. Why did he turn his back on Jesus now?
Voices called out from the crowd as they too questioned what was happening. Some misunderstood his words completely and wondered why he was calling out to the prophet Elijah. The mockers took up their cry again, jeering at him that even his own father had left him to die. And those of us who loved him mourned with groans and cries of agony, reflecting his pain.
Someone offered him a drink of wine from a sponge at the end of a reed. After a quick sip, he raised his head again, quieting the crowd with another shout.
There was a huge rumbling and loud cracking sounds as though rocks were splitting apart, and the earth beneath our feet began to shake, screams filling the air as the onlookers tried to keep their balance, fear overtaking them. As we tried to make sense of what was happening, shouts from those standing closer to the crosses confirmed that Jesus was dead.
Soon, small groups of people broke off from the crowd and began making their way back to their homes or businesses. But one of the temple boys parted them as he raced towards the group of priests still standing off to one side, shouting, “The curtain! The curtain! It ripped all by itself! It ripped right down the middle, from top to bottom!”
The crowd was still spreading this news about the temple’s heavy veil, when another young lad appeared with an incredible story of dead bodies rising from their graves and returning to the city. Fear and wonder rippled in waves through the congregation.
“This man truly was the Son of God!”
I craned my neck and squinted into the darkness to see who had shouted this. To my surprise, it was one of the Roman officers. It was a declaration that came much too late. Jesus was dead.
Mary and I stayed and watched everything as one of the soldiers stabbed Jesus in the side to be sure he was gone, and a group of them removed his body from the cross. After a man named Joseph got permission to bury him, we watched him wrap Jesus’ body and place it in a cave; a new tomb he likely had for his family. We didn’t leave until a group of men rolled a huge stone in front of the opening. We wondered at the reason for this; possibly to keep animals from going in to desecrate the remains?
Tomorrow was the Sabbath. It would be another day of mourning. The world had just lost a great man. The Messiah had come and now the Messiah was dead. We went home with heavy hearts.
The day after Good Friday, before Easter Sunday, is often called Waiting Saturday. As I retell the story of Jesus’ death from my imagined perspective of Mary, mother of James and Joseph, I recognize that Jesus’ followers hadn’t understood any of the references he had made to his resurrection. In their minds, he was dead, and all hope was lost. They may have begun to question if he was actually the Messiah. This was not the ending they were expecting. Their mourning would not have just been for a man they loved. They mourned for humanity; for the loss of one who was supposed to save the world. He now lay lifeless in a tomb.
The darkness may have fallen on the day Jesus died, but the following day would have seemed even darker for his followers. Their leader was dead.
But this is not the end of the story, my friends. Let’s pick up here tomorrow!
Thank You, Jesus, for going through with Your Father’s plan; for suffering a terrible death as a human so that I would not have to pay for my own sins this way. Your love is overwhelming. Father, Your sacrifice showed immeasurable grace and mercy for Your creation. Thank You for offering us this way out, this doorway to forgiveness, and a stairway to Heaven. We wait today, not with sadness, but with expectation, because we know how this story ends. May God be praised.