April 09, 2019

You have crucified an innocent lamb


Joseph of Arimathea, upon hearing about the crucifixion, immediately went to Pilate. Because he was a member of the Sanhedrin Council, he was allowed to enter Pilate’s quarters.

“You have crucified an innocent lamb,” he said to Pilate.
“Yes, I know,” Pilate responded “but what could I do?”
Pilate appeared to be tired and frustrated by the day’s events. Joseph ignored Pilate’s irritation.
“It is our custom to be sure a dead body is not hung on a tree overnight,” Joseph said “with your permission, I would like to take him down.”
“But where will you take him?”
“I have a new crypt near Golgotha; I can take him there to be prepared for burial.”
 A loud voice interrupted their conversation. It was Annas.
“But how will we know he is dead?”
“The Roman soldiers will see to that,” Pilate responded.
“And how will you prevent his disciples from taking his body away from your tomb in the middle of the night?”
“Why would they do that?” asked Pilate.
“It is rumored,” Annas said with authority “Jesus will arise from the dead in three days. If his disciples steal his body and hide it, they will say he has arisen and gone to heaven.”
Pilate scowled. He did not like what Annas said. If they succeeded in stealing the body, they were certain to claim Jesus was alive and had gone to be in that Kingdom of God he was always talking about.
“Is your tomb secure?” he asked Joseph.
“There is a very large slab of stone that can be rolled to close the entrance. They will not be able to get in.”
Annas was not satisfied. “If it can be closed, it can be opened. We have to be sure the Messiah prophecy has not been fulfilled.”
Pilate had a solution. “I will post a guard.... One they cannot bribe.”
He turned to a servant “Go find Maximus.”

***

Maximus had risen in rank to the number two position of authority in the legion stationed near Jerusalem. It was late afternoon when the servant brought him to Pontius Pilate. He saluted Pilate.
“I have just returned from Gaza. Your servant has demanded I come to see you. What do you need?”
Pilate looked agitated. “We have crucified three men this afternoon. I want you to personally make sure all three men are dead, and then report back to me.”
“As you wish. Where are they?”
“At Golgotha.... oh.... and be sure the one who has been called the King of the Jews is sealed in the crypt Joseph of Arimathea has offered. We want to hold this man in Joseph’s tomb until we are sure he stays dead.”

Maximus saluted again and went to find eight Roman soldiers. A short time later he walked down the road to where the three crosses had been placed. Two of the men had already been removed. When he looked at the cross with the sign on it, he suddenly felt deathly ill. A woman came to him and tugged at the sleeve of his tunic. Maximus turned and looked down at the tear stained face of Mary, the mother of Jesus. He immediately recognized her.

“You!” he exclaimed with a mixture of disbelief and compassion.
 A startled Maximus looked up again at the cross. Through the blood, sweat and dirt he recognized the lifeless form of his friend..... Jesus. The realization of what was happening stunned Maximus; he felt a hot surge of revulsion flood throughout his body. Mary grasped his arm.
“Please, please for the love of God. Please bring my son down. Don’t you see how he has suffered?”
Badly shaken by what he was witnessing, Maximus called to his Centurions.
“Bring that cross down and release that man. Be careful with him. Treat him with the same respect you would a fallen comrade.”
Puzzled by their leader’s compassion for the dead man on the cross, the soldiers did as they were instructed. They carefully brought down the cross, and removed the spikes. A tearful Salome gave them a shroud to cover the body. Then Joseph of Arimathea spoke up.
“Have them carry the body to my crypt. It is not far. I will show you the way.”
Maximus motioned for two of his men to pick up the body of Jesus and they trudged off toward the garden and crypt Joseph had set aside for his own death. Salome and Mary of Magdala followed them, stumbling at times in their grief. Maximus came down the small hill and took Mary’s hand.
“Let us be sure he will rest in peace.... But I don’t understand.... why did they crucify the innocent?”
“They are full of treachery and deception, my son only thought of love. His teaching annoyed them.”

Maximus frowned, took Mary’s arm, and escorted her to the crypt. They caught up with the men carrying the body of Jesus. It was, as Joseph had said, only a short distance and in a few moments they arrived at the huge stone door. The soldiers went inside the crypt and placed Jesus on a slab of stone. Mary of Magdala made sure the body was completely covered by the shroud.

“Do you want to say goodbye to your son?”, a thoroughly shaken Maximus asked.
“I would like to say a prayer.... alone if that is alright with you.”
“Of course, Mary.... we will wait until you come out. Take your time.”

Overcome with grief, Mary entered the crypt. In the darkness she could barely make out the still form of her son, so carefully placed on the slab of stone. She stood there; looking at the shroud and began to sob. Tears rolled down her cheeks. She gently touched the still form under the shroud with her finger tips.
“Oh Jesus, have we failed you?”

After she came out, the soldiers rolled the stone in place. Maximus placed the seal of Rome on the stone to discourage tampering with the crypt. He assigned four of his soldiers to guard the crypt, and after making sure the soldiers understood their instructions, Maximus and the three women left the crypt and walked slowly to the city. It began to rain. The steady downpour soon soaked them all to the skin.
After they left, a young man emerged from the shadows. He walked to the crypt and slowly traced the edge of the stone door with his hands. Weeping uncontrollably, he walked quietly away.

***

Eight of the Apostles had left for Jericho early Friday morning, as Jesus instructed. Overcome with grief, Jude had left for Jericho during the crucifixion. James, light-headed with grief, left Golgotha soon after Jesus asked him to watch over his mother. Sick and ashamed for his denial of Jesus, Peter soon followed James to the Mount of Olives.

Judas, however, stumbled more than walked as he made his way in the darkness toward Jericho after the crucifixion. He had seen the trials, witnessed the hatred, watched the flogging, and followed the crowd that escorted Jesus to Golgotha. Even so, he was not prepared for the suffering of his teacher on the cross. It destroyed whatever composure he had left. Like the others who witnessed the crucifixion, and the internment of Jesus in the crypt, he was caught in the drenching rain that blew over Jerusalem like a curse. He began to stumble in the mud. Blinded by a mixture of hot salty tears and incessant rain, Judas lost his direction and staggered into an open field. He lost his footing in the mud. Judas tried to see the road, but it was so dark he could only guess where to go.

“Oh God, what have I done,” he called out. “You told me to do it.... Jesus.... I did what you told me to do.... But I never expected them to kill you.”
The young man somehow managed to find the road, but bumped into a black figure he could not see in the darkness.
“Get out of the way, a man’s voice cursed at Judas.”
He was joined by several other men. Even in the darkness, Judas could tell it was a troop of Pilate’s mercenaries. The man spoke again.
“Get out of the way or I’ll kick you into the mud.”
From his accent, Judas guessed the soldier was from one of the northern territories. Somewhere north of the Baltic. But Judas was in no mood to yield. He pushed the man back and screamed in his face.
“Do you know what you Romans did today! You just murdered the Messiah! The son of God! You just crucified the most loving human on this earth!”
  The soldier was in a foul mood. A long march to reach Jerusalem. Drenched by the rain. Hungry. Tired. And now this stupid Jew.
“Get out of the way!”
 Judas reached into his pocket and drew out the silver coins Annas had given him. He threw them at the soldier.
“Keep your damned money you heathen creatures!”
 The soldier was in no mood to be insulted. He drew his sword and thrust it upward into the young man’s stomach. Blood instantly flushed out from the wound and soaked his tunic. Grasping his belly Judas stumbled backward into the field, turned, stumbled again, and fell face first into the mud. He struggled for a few moments and died. The soldiers picked up as many of the coins as they could find in the mud. The man who killed Judas found his lifeless body in the field and carefully cleaned his sword on the dead man’s tunic.

***

Saturday morning dawned cold and wet. Because it was the Sabbath, no activity was permitted at the tomb. The Roman guards posted at Joseph of Arimathea’s crypt, upset by the demeaning task they had been given, wet from the rain, and shivering because of the cold morning air, began to drink a blood red wine.

On the Mount of Olives, James woke up early, ignored the bread Peter offered to him, and started for Jericho. He and Jude would carry the news of the crucifixion to the other Apostles. The cold rain had turned to a fine mist that seemed to swirl around him as he stumbled through the mud. Storm clouds hung low over the land, as though to shroud all living things in a grey tomb.

James saw a group of people standing in a field. They were looking at the body of a man who was face down in the mud. Something prompted James to join them. As soon as he got a closer look at the man’s lifeless form, he knew it was Judas.

.................

Ron

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