In That Moment – Part 3

Minutes passed in a flurry of action. I could not keep up with all that was going on: it all happened too fast, and at the same time it seemed to take years for just a few moments to pass. I saw the glint of metal in the moon’s light, I heard a scream and saw the blood covering the high priest’s servant. I knew it had been Peter, and I felt a slight twinge of jealousy that I had not been the one to draw a sword in protection: but that was Peter for you. I heard Him say something; some chastisement to Peter’s impulsivity. Then they were leading Him off. I turned to follow. I hadn’t gone five steps though, when something compelled me to stop and look behind me. There stood Peter, frozen, motionless, just like his name suggested: a rock. Even the slight night breeze that tugged at my robe didn’t seem to touch him. He seemed frozen in time, and the look on his face was one of utter confusion and grief. I took pity on him, my closest friend of the eleven.

“Peter!” I called. His whole body convulsed at the sound of my voice. I watched as he slowly took three steps backward, then turned and ran in the opposite direction. For a second my compassion for his situation got the best of me, but then I started to get angry with Peter. How could he desert Him at this time? This was His greatest time of need: it was time for all of us to put aside our own feelings and come together for Him. I turned back in His direction, then stopped cold. One by one, the other disciples were leaving. As they reached a certain point, they all broke off and fled: just like Peter. Matthew, Andrew, Bartholomew, Thomas: even my own brother, James flew from His side like a frightened bird. I was ashamed of him, of all of them. As the last of His chosen followers disappeared into the darkness, I started after Him. I remembered His words (had it been just hours ago?), “Tonight, all of you will be offended because of me.” Peter had been the first to deny this claim, of course. However we had all repeated those words of promise, and now I was the only one left, the only one following Him as we had all been called to do years ago. I pressed on, but something strange started to happen. Suddenly a heaviness seemed to settle in my soul, and it affected my body. My arms and legs began to feel weighted. I slowed until I was almost stopped.

It was like trying to move in water up to my neck and the gap between me and Him kept growing wider and wider.

A grayness seemed to fall over the land…or was it over my eyes? I looked to the sky. The moon still shone, but now it looked pale and everything around me moved in ominous shadows.

I was moving even slower now.

My breathing grew heavy and hard as though some weight had been placed on my chest. My heart quickened and my head started to spin.

I could barley see Him anymore through the fog that I was not sure was even real. Was this what the other disciples had felt? Is this why they fled? I was pressing on as hard as I could; yet suddenly I realized I was no longer even moving. My feet stayed firmly planted on the ground, like the roots of the olive tree I was standing next to. Tears stung my eyes as I looked after Him and watched Him disappear into the night, led by the soldiers. I tried to take a step. I wanted to run after Him. I wanted to shout for Him. I wanted to throw my arms around Him and tell Him how much I loved Him. I wanted to beg Him not to leave, but I couldn’t move. Finally, I turned, slowly, and once I was facing a different direction my legs loosened, my breathing returned to normal and I ran as fast as I could, feet pounding, eating up the yards. The length of time that passed in that haze, the distance I consumed, I’ll never know. The impulse that carried me away was suddenly overtaken by an overwhelming guilt that slowed my pace and whipped me back around in the direction from which I had come. I had fled from the Man that I called Lord, the One who loved me more than any other; the One whom I claimed I loved more than any other. And I had abandoned Him in His greatest time of need. A sudden panic stirred within my chest, the thought that it might be too late, that I might never be able to remedy this terrible mistake. The panic jolted my exhausted legs back into action, carrying me back to my Lord’s side.

 

Finding where they had taken Him was merely a matter of logic; they were accusing Him, and demanding that He be put to death. They would take Him to the High Priest, Ciaphas. My father’s high reputation allowed me access to areas denied to others with a little negotiating. Calming Peter and convincing the guards that he would behave if allowed in the courtyard took up precious moments, but it was either that or leave them at the mercy of my friend’s impulsive anger and swift sword. By the time the issue was settled, Ciaphas had decided to send Him to Pilate who had the power to order His death. The entourage was moving yet again. As we exited into the courtyard, the morning sun was just beginning to throw its glinting rays into the shadows, ushered in by a singular cock, its crow an ominous death-knell. I saw Him looking into the courtyard and swung my gaze in that direction. I was in time to see the look on Peter’s face, one that will never leave my mind, before he turned and fled.

 

Pilate had found no cause against Him. Of course he wouldn’t! He had done nothing. When Pilate heard He was a Galilean, he sent Him to Herod. My father’s name did not impress those who served Herod, and I knew suddenly how Peter must have felt waiting in the courtyard. A dizzying swirl of anger, fear, and helplessness compelled me to pace until it overwhelmed me and I sank to my knees. Tears clogged my throat, stung my eyes, there was nothing I could do! Suddenly a face flashed into my mind, an image, blurred by the speed with which it passed through my thoughts, but distinct. Judas. There was something I could do. I could find Judas. I would find the sniveling coward and I would drag him by his hair if necessary to see what his betrayal had done to our Master. I knew the only place he would find redemption was at His feet, and I wouldn’t mind giving him a piece of my mind, or fists, in order to get him there.

My search was useless from the beginning, but after several hours the futility drove me to the point of insanity. Overwhelmed with more thoughts and emotions than I could bear, I sank behind a vendor’s abandoned cart on the outskirts of town, buried my face in my arms and cried like a little child.

 

I don’t know what compelled me to crawl from my hiding place. It seemed as though days had passed, yet the sun was still just climbing into the sky. I looked towards town, and slowly started in that direction. It wasn’t the noise that drew me: I couldn’t hear that yet. It was more a deep stirring in my heart, a dangerous foreshadowing of the horror that was to come. As I neared the city, I heard the commotion rising with the dust in the air. Angry shouts, mocking laughs, curses. I made my way towards the mob, wondering what was going on, a sickening feeling in the bottom of my stomach. It looked like the entire city of Jerusalem was gathered in one street and they were all shouting, screaming. I pushed people out of the way, elbowing my way towards the front, desperate to get there, but afraid of what I would see when I arrived. And rightfully so. What I did see about made me vomit up everything I had ever eaten.

There e sHHe stood; or rather slumped. He was stripped down completely. Ragged ribbons of blood oozed down His sides from long, jagged wounds. His back was nothing but the tattered remains of what had once been flesh, shards of red skin hanging from the exposed bones underneath. The gaping wounds striped His neck, arms, and legs as well. Through His matted, bloody nest of hair I saw huge thorns protruding from His head. Blood flowed down His face, into His eyes and ears, and dripped from His chin to the dust where it became a dark brown stain. Flies clung to the open wounds like they did to rotten meat, and dust had mixed with the blood to form an oozing, crusty paste.            They laughed at Him, pointing and cursing. They spit on Him. I started to tremble, and my legs gave way. I sunk to my knees and watched in horror the agonizing scene before me. How could they do this to Him? Five days before these same people had heralded His entry: a humble King riding the colt of a donkey. They waved palm branches and praised Him. Their “Hosannas” rang up towards heaven as they stripped off their coats to place on the ground before Him. These same people who now mocked Him with scornful laughs.

Then to my utter horror I watched as they brought out a dyed, purple robe. They threw it across His shoulders. I was trembling again, but now not from fear or anguish, but from anger and pure hatred. How could they mock Him like this? I struggled to my feet.

“Behold!” I heard a voice shout and tried to trace it. “The King of the Jews!” The mocking voice called out again. I followed the laughter until my eyes landed on a figure that looked strangely familiar. Then I recognized him. It was Malchus, the high priest’s servant whose ear Peter had so appropriately sliced off. It had not been more than a few hours since He healed Malchus’ ear. How could this coward cause Him this amount of shame when He had helped him? With my eyes fixed on Malchus I took a step forward, intending to pick up where Peter had left off, but one of the guards threw out his arm and I ran into it. It jarred me backwards and I almost fell. The guard laughed at me, then seeming to know why I was so indignant, he picked up a rock and hurled it at Him.

Others had picked up on Malchus’ jeer now, and they were shouting, “Behold the King of the Jews!” I couldn’t stand it any longer.

“Do you not see how true your taunt is?” I shouted. “He is the King! You are destroying the man you have been waiting for! You are killing your Messiah!” Even I could barely hear my voice above the noise of the crowd. A few shoved me, or threw rocks at me as well, but mostly I was ignored.

I watched as they placed the huge wooden beam for the cross on His back. He had been saying He would die; had been saying it for as long as we knew Him, but I don’t think I ever completely believed it. At the sight of the wood, I turned suddenly cold and felt like a huge rock was sitting in my stomach. They placed the wood on His back, the jagged splinters digging into His raw wounds. I watched as He winced, but didn’t say a word. Then they shoved Him forwards. They were moving in the direction of Golgotha: the Hill of Calvary. That was where all of the crucifixions took place. I could hardly believe that of all the ways they could kill Him they had chosen this. Crucifixion was the most excruciating and slow death and was reserved for murderers and life-long thieves. He had done nothing: nothing but lead a perfect, sinless life of caring for others. My mind could not comprehend it, and slowly started to shut down. A cold numbness came over me.

They shoved Him.

He stumbled, fell.

They laughed, and picked Him back up. But He couldn’t stand any longer. His blood was pouring out on the ground and with it all of His strength. So they pulled a man from the crowd. He was a stranger to me, but I heard someone call his name Simon. They placed His cross on him and moved on.

I followed. We all followed. The walk seemed to take forever, and yet at the same time went far too fast. I knew what was going to happen when we reached that dreadful place. I knew it in my mind, but somehow couldn’t believe it in my heart. He couldn’t die like that: not on a cross like that. He didn’t deserve it. He wouldn’t die like that. Something would happen. He would not die like that.

I followed. We all followed. And then, we were there. With tears in my eyes I watched as they stretched Him out on the cross. Then to my horror I saw them draw out long, blunt nails. They were as long as my forearm and almost as thick as two of my fingers together. I watched in disbelief as they moved to drive them into His wrists. This was not how it was done. Not at all. Criminals were not nailed to the cross, they were tied: tied with rough ropes that dug into the skin, but nothing like this. I watched as they placed the first nail against the skin of His wrist. I watched as they held the metal mallet high above. I watched as He turned His head away and closed His eyes. And then I could watch no longer. As the mallet came down, I covered my eyes. I heard the sickening ring of metal striking metal; heard His unbearable gasp of pain; heard the crowd cheering. I turned. I could not stay here any longer. I could not bear to watch this. But as I turned, I heard a heartbreaking sob from somewhere in the crowd. I began to shove my way through, looking for this one soul who was clearly in as much pain as I. I hadn’t gone very far, though, before I saw.

She was pushing her way blindly through the mass, tears streaming down her face as she tried to reach Him. I knew what they would do to her if she got too close. I knew they would throw her back in the crowd, kick dirt at her, tell her to go home. And I knew she would try again and again to reach Him, each effort vain. I knew this, because as much as I loved Him, the love of a mother for her Son is stronger.

“Mary!” I called, but she didn’t turn. She was trying desperately to get to her Son, calling His name out again and again. I reached her just before the guards did. I grabbed her arm and pulled her away.

“Let me go!” she screamed. “Let me go! I must go to Him!” I turned her around and pulled her into my arms. I held her there and she buried her face in my robe and broke into hysterical sobs. She kept saying, “Let me go. Let me go,” but her protests were getting weaker. I tried to comfort her, but didn’t know what words to say. I couldn’t tell her things were going to be all right. They were killing her Son right before her eyes: things were not all right.

“He has to,” I finally said, not really knowing where the words came from or what they meant. “He has to.” I was suddenly envious of her husband Joseph and angry at the same time. He should be the one here comforting her and helping her. Neither feeling was appropriate however. Joseph had died when He was still young, before He started His ministry on earth. Oh how fortunate he was that he did not have to see this.

As they raised Him up on the cross I allowed Mary to turn and watch but still kept my arm firmly around her. Tears continued to stream down her face but she stood in trembling silence now. There we stood at the foot of His cross for an eternity. Then, He looked at us. It was the first time His eyes had met mine, yet I believe He knew the whole time I was there. And He smiled at us. Through the blood, the tears, the agonizing pain He smiled.

“Woman,” He addressed His mother, a gentle kindness in His voice. “Behold, your son.” With these words He looked at me. “Behold your mother,” He said. I understood His words. He wanted me to look after Mary and care for her as I did my own mother. Mary was alone. Her husband was no longer with her, and her other children gave her no support: they were not even there. Now, He was going as well and with one of His last breaths, He was assuring security for His beloved mother. I tightened my arm around her and with tears in my eyes I nodded.

Hours passed. We didn’t move as we watched Him suffering. It began to grow dark, though it was the middle of the day. The darkness grew until it was like a night with no moon, and I could no longer see Him. I started to panic. I didn’t want to take my eyes off of Him for a second. I could feel Mary tensing, though, and fought back my own terror to comfort her. The darkness lasted three hours. Finally He cried out,

“My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?” I couldn’t bear it. I started to cry. Had everyone abandoned Him? Even His own heavenly Father, the Great Yahweh Himself: had He left Him to suffer on His own? Mary sank to her knees and I gratefully joined her. Together we cried, and together we watched as He pushed against the nail in His feet to raise Himself up. We watched as He took one final, ragged breath, then cried out,

“It is finished!” With that, His body fell limp. With that, His head fell against His chest. And in that moment, I knew that it was finished.

In that moment I knew He had died.

In that moment, I knew it was because of me.

 

 

+++

 

Three days later, the woman Mary Magdalene came running into town. She searched until she found the two of us.

“Peter! John!” She told us that His body was not in His tomb. She told us that the stone was rolled away and He was no longer in there. We ran until we reached the tomb. What we saw astounded us.

What Mary said was true.

His body was no longer there.

He was not there.

And in that moment, we knew: nothing was ever going to be the same again.

In that moment, we knew.

 

+++

 

In that moment,

He took our sins upon Him.

In that moment,

The Father turned His back.

In that moment,

His breath grew hot and ragged.

In that moment,

The sky grew dark, and black.

In that moment,

He died for us.

In that moment,

The morning sun appearing.

In that moment,

The stone was rolled away.

In that moment,

The glorious Son appearing!

In that moment,

Death could no longer stay.

In that moment,

He rose for us.

In that moment,

He’ll come again to take us.

In that moment,

We’ll reign with Him on high.

In that moment,

We’re watching, still, and praying.

In that moment,

The twinkling of an eye.

In that moment…

~ S.D. Bullard

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~ by sdbullard on April 20, 2014.

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