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, and whipped him. Those were the things 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 shined its brightest, giving off the most heat, the sun 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. After 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 me. 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 others surrounding me. I only had to look into the eyes of the woman grasping my hand to see a soul he had rescued from the brink of Hell and saved from the torture of demons. 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 my friends and me 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, and the crowd had noticed.
“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” His voice echoed across the valley, cutting through the inky air.
My heart broke anew at that moment. How had he felt, hanging there as the life drained from him, compounded with his own Father’s refusal to intervene? God could have stopped this. If everything Jesus told us about Him 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 the words that Jesus cried out in his mother tongue, and they wondered why he called out to the prophet Elijah. The mockers resumed their jeering at him and scoffed that even God, who he had claimed was his 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.
Suddenly, I heard a loud rumble and cracking sounds as though rocks were splitting apart, and I stumbled as the earth beneath our feet began to shake. Screams filled 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 closest to the crosses confirmed that Jesus was dead.
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.
“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 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 to see what they would do with his body. After the Sabbath, we would prepare it properly for burial.
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 Jesus, we watched him wrap the body and place it in a cave, a new tomb he likely had for his family. We only headed home after a group of men rolled a heavy stone in front of the opening. We wondered at the reason for this—possibly to keep animals from going in to desecrate the remains?
The next day was the Sabbath. It would be another filled with mourning for this great man. The Messiah had come, and now the Messiah was dead. We went home with heavy hearts.
The day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday is often called Waiting Saturday. As I retell the story of Jesus’ death from the perspective of Mary (the mother of James and Joseph), I recognize that Jesus’ friends hadn’t understood any of the references He had made to His resurrection. In their minds, their beloved Jesus was dead, and all hope was lost. The day after His crucifixion was only a “waiting day” because the women had to wait until after the Sabbath to properly tend to the body. While the hours dragged by, they may have even questioned if He was the Messiah; for them, this was the end. Not only did they mourn a man they loved, but they mourned for humanity, for the loss of the One who was supposed to save the world. He now lay lifeless in a tomb.
The darkness may have fallen early 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 it up here later this weekend for an exciting plot twist!
As we acknowledge Good Friday and consider the crucifixion of Jesus, can you imagine yourself there, at the foot of the cross, watching Him die? How does that make you feel?
Take some time today to read one of the accounts of Jesus’ death (Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, John 19) and thank Him for His sacrifice. He suffered for you.
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.
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