“I am ready to die for you”
The words bounced off the walls and echoed all around the room, each succeeding word starting before the last echo had died and creating a multiple sound pattern of overlapping words with different volumes. It was dark all around and there were different noises everywhere in the unfamiliar room. The hair on his skin was prickled and the voices were getting louder and it was unmistakable whose it was.
It was his.
The voice was mocking him. It rose to a crescendo and then stopped. Everywhere became deathly quiet, not even the wind moved.
“Will you die for me now?” it was the Master’s voice. “You will betray me three times before the cock crows’’
“I swear, I have never seen him before in my life!” The words were as vivid as when he had uttered it at the courtyard in the high priest’s palace that night. The words that had emanated from the challenge of a maid, made in the presence of other servants of the house, identifying him as one of the Master’s disciples. Words that have haunted him since then.
Suddenly, a light appeared in front of him and there, hanging from a cross was the Master. His head was drooping and blood dripped from his hands and feet. The Master’s head jerked up and looked at him.
“Why did you deny me Simon?”
And then everywhere was dark again, followed by the sound of loud raucous laughter reverberating and giving the room an eerie feeling.
“Why did you do it Simon?” a voice asked, barely above a whisper “I thought you loved me!” the voice was louder now, harsher. And then the laughter again.
Simon opened his eyes and darkness greeted him. It was not yet dawn and silence reigned, interjected occasionally by the cricket sounds. His eyes were wet with tears and they streamed down his face. The dreams had become more intense. He remembered with a shudder the look on the Master’s face as he held his gaze in the dream and his words. They cut his heart like a knife.
For a brief moment he considered ending it all. Maybe in death, there will be peace, he reasoned. The thought did not last long. Surely he wasn’t beyond redemption.
I have prayed for you so that your strength would not fail.
The Master’s words comforted him and he held on to them like his life depended on them.
It was the Sabbath day, the first Sabbath of the New Year. Jerusalem was filled to the brim with people from all over Israel who had come for the Passover. There was excitement in the air and everywhere in the city, people huddled in groups and talked animatedly.
The events of the previous day was still fresh in people’s minds and was the centre of people’s discussions. The camps were divided into two groups, those who believed that the Nazarene deserved to die for blaspheming against Yahweh and who supported the decision of Pilate and the other group who believed that he was a righteous man and a prophet of God and who were outraged at the brutality of the romans. There was a small minority who believed that Jesus was indeed the son of God.
One of them was talking animatedly in a group of five men standing beside the south entrance of the temple.
“Which of the prophets at his death did many wonderful signs happen like the things that we witnessed yesterday?’’
“So you believe that the man was the son of God?’’ another replied “where in the law and the prophets did you read that the Messiah would be crucified by the despicable romans?”
“How can he be the Messiah when even the high priests and the council of the Pharisees and Sadducees were against him?’’ yet another of the men replied.
“The Pharisees and Sadducees’’ the first man spat “they are nothing more than stooges for the romans! Were you not there at Pilate’s palace yesterday when they boldly declared Caesar as King?”
“Watch your tongue Gaius” the second man hissed. Just then, a group of roman soldiers marched by barking orders for people to clear out of the way.
Mary sat on the floor in house of John, staring blankly at the wall. Beside her was a plate of bread and cheese and a flask of water that had been sitting there for hours. The others have persuaded her to no avail to eat.
Scenes from the crucifixion were playing in her mind’s eye and the noises and sounds were a constant companion. The agony of his voice as the whip descended on his bare back, the sight of the mangled flesh, the white of the bare bones as they stuck out, the gleam of the eyes of the soldier as he delivered blow after blow on her child’s back. The jeers and cheers from the crowd of sycophants especially sickened her. How can her stomach hold food down with the images constantly making her stomach churn?
Several emotions welled up within her. Anger, sadness, disgust and incredulity. How could anybody be that cruel? She wondered. How could people gang up against an innocent soul, one who neglected his family and dedicated his whole life to helping people? Can the human mind be that fickle? The same people that he spent his life helping were the same who shouted for him to be crucified! These and many more questions plagued her thoughts.
And you shall call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins
The words of the angel to her that heralded her immaculate conception.
Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing
Understanding dawned on her. This was His mission and this was how he was meant to save Israel. The Jews had rejected him because for all his talks of saving them, he had not for once challenged the romans, rather he had even supported paying taxes to Caesar. They had betrayed him but they had been helping him to finish his mission.
It is finished
His last words before He gave up the ghost. Those words that had seemed irrelevant now made sense to her. He had finished the work that he had come to do. He has finished saving his people from their sins. That was the essence of His death.
Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. The words that he spoke while alive and teaching his disciples came to her. He had come to die, that he might have many fruits.
Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whosoever believes in him should have eternal life
Joy surged through her and she gasped, in between tears. This time around, they were not tears of sorrow. All the anger and hurt that she had been holding inside melted. She had been wrestling with the prayer of forgiveness that her son had prayed for his tormentors and accusers, because she felt they deserved the wrath of God and not mercy or forgiveness. But now, she could forgive them as well, they had been serving their purpose of seeing the Christ to his glorious end.
John entered the room then and stopped in his tracks as he saw her smiling. She reached out to him and he walked towards her and entered her embrace.
When they had separated, he looked at her gleaming face, a puzzled expression etched on his face.
“It is finished” she said to him “He was killed because it was his time and through his death he had saved Israel from her sins”.
Behold! The Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the whole world.
The words of John the Baptist rang clearly in his mind at the baptism of the Master at the river Jordan. John remembered Andrew telling them the story and how the Spirit of God had descended on the Master as he walked out of the river after being baptized.
John sat down waiting for more and for the first time, Mary shared her experiences and the things she had hidden in her heart which she had not told another soul till then.
Silence reigned in the upper room where the disciples hid themselves from the leaders of the Jews. It will not be long before they think about killing all the followers of the man they had accused of being a malefactor, they reasoned. The depth of malevolence that permeated their countenances could not be sated with just the death of one man. Terror reigned supreme, the gory sights they had witnessed made them shudder at being the recipient of such torment.
Three years they had been following the Master and he had promised them eternal life and great rewards in heaven. They had slept and dined with him and had seen first-hand the mighty works of God and he had taught them about the kingdom of heaven. He had also hinted at his death from the hands of the gentiles but they had not fully grasped what he was saying. He had always talked in parables and they had assumed that he hadn’t been talking literally.
They had been too excited about the signs and wonders and the blessedness of being in the presence of the son of God that they had not paused to think about the possibility of him been apprehended by the romans and shamefully executed. Now the reality was stark and they didn’t know what to do.
There was a knock at the door. Everybody froze and fear could be seen on many eyes. Nobody moved. The knock came again, louder. Still, none moved. It came again, insistent.
Peter stood up and walked to the door. Whoever was at the door was someone known to them and who knew where they were all staying. Maybe the High priest and the leaders have finally come for them and had infiltrated yet another of them. It was sad the wave of betrayal going around, Peter thought despondently, he being one of the betrayers. This time however, he was willing to die for the Master. He would plead with the council to spare the lives of the others and take him instead. Taking a deep breath, he asked who was at the door.
“It is me, Matthias” the voice at the other side of the door answered. Peter noted a breezy quality to the voice. Could it be that he was being forced against his will to do this?
“Are you alone?” Peter knew that even if there were a thousand roman army behind the door, the answer would not be different.
“Yes” Matthias answered.
Peter opened the door slowly and heaved a sigh of relief when he saw no one else but Matthias at the door. He threw the door wide and let him in, closing the door after him.
Matthias brought news from the temple. He had overheard a roman centurion barking orders at his men to march towards the field next to Golgotha where the King of the Jews had been buried and to guard it and to seal the tomb with the signet of Caesar so that no man would tamper with it.
He further narrated how he had learned that after the Passover, the chief priest had gone to the palace of Pilate with some members of the council to ask the ruler to station the guards at the mouth of the grave so that the disciples would not go there at night to steal the body.
The disciples marveled at the malevolence of the High priest and the chief rulers. They had known that the Pharisees and Sadducees had not been on the Master’s good books but they couldn’t believe the height of the animosity. All the Master ever did was to do good to all men and to show them the way to the Father. They concluded that the high priest was still going to come after them.
Despair was registered on every eye and their hearts was overtaken with sorrow. There was no words of comfort and the future looked bleak and gray.