SEVEN DAYS TO GLORY
(A fictional account of an eye witness to the last seven days of Jesus’ life on earth)
From James, a disciple of Jesus, to my family and friends scattered throughout the land;
What I am about to share with you comes from my personal journal and observations of the last seven days of Jesus of Nazareth, the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world. These are my thoughts and impressions of what impacted me on those final days in Jerusalem. I hope that in sharing these impressions with you, you may take time at this time of the year to reflect on all he has done for us and who he truly is, The Only begotten of the Father who freely came to offer his life as a sacrifice holy and pleasing to God that we might be free to know God as our Father through the forgiveness that is ours through the precious blood of Jesus Christ our Lord.
What a glorious day! As I awoke that beautiful spring morning, the air was filled with the sound of birds singing and the fragrance of flowers, jasmine I recall, in the cool morning breeze. The aroma of fresh baked bread lifted me from my bed and with a splash of water on my face I began what was to be one of the most jubilant days of my life.
We never quite knew what He was up to. Each day was a new intriguing adventure but of late the days grew with a mounting tension and exhilaration that we all seemed to know was leading to an inevitable, inescapable climax.
We all spoke of this among ourselves about what all this meant and what it might lead to. I must admit that my brother, John and I started quite an uproar among the guys as we ambitiously suggested to Jesus that on that day, when He took the thrown, that he place us on either side of him, you know, as his personal body guards assisting him in his rule of the kingdom. When the rest heard this they were indignant to say the least.
At other times we had jostled for position and argued competitively over who would be “the greatest” when the final hour of conquest came, only to be overheard by Jesus and sternly rebuked with a lecture on being servants to each other. Imagine how that went over among this motley crew of fishermen (as competitive a breed that ever wore sandals) a tax collector, political zealots and commoners clamoring for a way to lift themselves out of their commonness. To say the least, it was a hard lesson to swallow. After all, we had all given up everything to follow Jesus; our careers, families, friends, dreams and aspirations. We had all taken a giant risk to follow him. Surely this faith as meager as it may have been would be rewarded in some significant way other than “serving” one another. In our culture servants wash feet, smelly, camel / donkey dung covered feet for heaven’s sake. No, we were a band of risk takers, casting our lot in with Jesus who was truly the most remarkable man I had ever laid eyes on.
Besides his incredible miraculous powers that were no magician tricks; blind made to see, lame leaping, demon possessed delivered and even the dead raised to life, things I saw with my own eyes, he had a way with people that was truly amazing. He never met a stranger. Everyone, even those who despised him seemed to recognize him as someone they knew from somewhere. He just had that way about him. And it didn’t matter who they were, how they dressed or looked or what they had, he treated them all the same with unabashed unashamed delight.
Every time he saw someone for the first time, it was like he had been waiting forever to meet them and everyone felt it, that special, uniqueness within themselves that he would somehow reach in and touch and with unspoken words whisper in your heart, “I know you and I love you.” It was the most wonderful experience of my life when he would just look at me, in my eyes, and I would know I mattered to him in a way I could not even begin to understand or fathom. It made me hunger for more every time I felt it. Like I finally had someone who knew how to measure my worth and it was infinitely more than I could even comprehend. It was wonderful and fearful at the same time yet irresistibly desirable beyond anything I had ever encountered before or since.
I felt at home when he looked in my eyes and that was where I wanted to be more than anywhere else. So, leaving everything to follow him I gained everything I ever wanted deep down for I knew His love for me and that satisfied my unspoken deepest desires and longings of my soul.
The word was spreading all the way to Jerusalem people were talking about him. The Jerusalem grapevine was hot with rumors, gossip, speculation and anticipation of his arrival. The place was bustling as the word spread among the crowds of thousands who were in town for the “Feast of all Feasts”, Passover. They came from the world over some for a once in a lifetime experience of celebrating Passover in Jerusalem home of the temple and center of Israel’s culture and heritage. The crowd had heard this was the day Jesus would arrive in Jerusalem.
During breakfast, Jesus gave us our marching orders for the day. My brother John and I were given the task of finding a donkey’s colt tied up and were to bring it to Jesus to ride into Jerusalem. We found the colt as Jesus had said, tied to a tree, a large dogwood as I recall in full bloom. As the wind blew petals fell like confetti swirling all around the bewildered little fellow as his mother stood calmly by his side. The folks who saw us untying him asked what we were doing so we told them what Jesus had told us to say, that the Lord needed him and would return him shortly. When they heard this they excitedly told us to take the mother, too, so we did. They were genuinely proud of the fact that their donkey had been selected for the jubilant procession and they joined the crowds that gathered along the road to Jerusalem, the route Jesus would soon take on his triumphant entry to the city of David.
As I led the colt to the place where we would meet Jesus it suddenly occurred to me that this animal had never been ridden before.
My mind raced back to the time when my brother John and I had our first donkey when we were young boys. We took turns getting run into fences and thrown in the dirt from our wild donkey ride. We laughed until our sides hurt and just about everything else hurt watching each other get the ride of our lives.
As I returned to the present task at hand, my jubilance suddenly shifted to pangs of panic at the thought of such an undignified entry for Jesus on this day we all hoped would be his coronation day. I was glad John had brought the mother donkey along just in case things didn’t go so well with Junior. As we met up with Jesus and the guys waiting at the crossroads his smiling face met my concerns like warm sunshine as our eyes met and he gently patted the young anxious colt. As he spoke softly to the colt, we laid our cloaks on its back, Jesus climbed on his back and off we went to Jerusalem.
I breathed a sigh of relief as the colt calmly began walking towards Jerusalem until we reached the crowds chanting, shouting and waving of palm branches but all this did not faze the little guy who was clearly a donkey on a mission. The shouts grew louder as the crowds surrounded our procession. People laid cloaks before him followed by layers of palm branches waving and falling before him in honor and praise to the sounds of “Hosanna! Save us! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming Kingdom of our Father David! Blessed is the King of Israel!” The cheers were as those who were being liberated from their captors. The excitement, the exuberance of the crowd, the timing all pointed to Him being crowned as our long awaited Messiah. Our hopes were high and we could not begin to imagine what was about to happen in the next few days.
As our jubilation marked the day of His glorious triumphant procession, I observed a strange change in Jesus as we crested the hill and Jerusalem came into view. He wept. He cried out, “IF ONLY…”I will never forget those words and that moment frozen in time. “IF ONLY…because you, Jerusalem did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you…” That is what He said. If only we had seen who it was, riding on that donkey colt, tears streaming down his cheeks, glistening like diamonds in the sun. “IF ONLY…we had heard his voice and recognized the Face of Almighty God, our One True Lord, our very Creator come to earth, to our own town, to us. It was as if our eyes were blinded by the revealed radiance of the reality of His Presence cloaked in a flesh and blood human disguise. The voice, Ah the voice. Familiar, perhaps too familiar, to be noticed and recognized as the one voice who spoke us into existence. The one distinct voice above all voices shrouded and muffled amidst the thunderous roars of the crowd like waves crashing against the shore drowns out all voices but its own. IF ONLY… but…we could not hear and we could not see and then…it was night.
As the sun arose the celebration was still ringing in my ears from the noise of the crowd of yesterday, I felt a change in the morning air. One lone bird sang outside the window a searching, single pleading note as if it was alone hoping for a familiar voice returning its song, but no answer came. My heart echoed the lonely note as the scenes from yesterday passed through my mind, jubilance and cheers, lament mixed with tears, a lonely song, IF ONLY..IF ONLY.
I rose to the familiar aroma of baking Passover bread, unleavened bread, dry, pierced and striped bread. It has a salty bland taste in a dry wafer that breaks easily from its brittle, rigid form, a central part of the Passover meal.
This bread would not be for our breakfast this morning but rather for the marketplace for the visitors to Jerusalem from the four corners of the world to feast in Jerusalem.
Today we would return there though without the fanfare and crowds of yesterday who had returned to their homes and their daily grind somewhat disappointed and for some disenchanted with Jesus who had wept over them, toured the temple and went home. Not the spectacle they had hoped for though some still hung around wanting their curiosity quenched as the buzz of this new day rose to a new fevered pitch with the common question, “What will he do today?” We also joined in with our usual inquisitive thought of “What now, Jesus?”
We left before breakfast this morning, stomachs complaining as we walked towards Jerusalem. Oh well, I guess we’ll eat out today which was fine with all of us anticipating the smorgasbord of delightful choices from Jerusalem’s finest markets. Jesus seemed perturbed, quiet, speaking in short statements and almost military like commands, unlike his usual way. No, “Good morning, James, sleep well?” Today it was, “Get up! Let’s go!” So we did! We followed pretty much in silence passing knowing glances among ourselves asking each other, “What’s up with Jesus?” As we walked Jesus noticed a fig tree in full leaf along the side of the road. Approaching it from a distance as he drew near as if to greet a friend he stopped and drew back his hand and cursed the tree! We all heard him and saw it and remarked to each other that we had seen many amazing and wonderful things on our Journey with Jesus but this was something new and somewhat baffling. You see, we all knew that this was not the season for figs. All of us wondered, “What is going on with Jesus?” Is this one of those rare “bad mood” days? He just didn’t seem to be quite himself today. We were not use to seeing this side of him and it was disconcerting to say the least but on we went to Jerusalem.
When we arrived in Jerusalem he went directly to the temple to the outer courts where we had been the day before at the end of the day just before returning to Bethany for the night. The outer court was the place reserved for the blind, deaf, disfigured, lame and the sick who were not permitted to go into the inner courts, reserved for the whole people. They came out of desperation, pain, grief and despair. They came for relief, to pray to God for healing, comfort and strength. But today there was no room for them and they had been driven out to the streets to make room for the temple merchants and money changers. Their tables and booths were set up to accommodate the large crowd of Passover celebrants and the higher than normal demand for sacrificial offerings. As an added convenience money changers were on hand to provide local hard currency in exchange for foreign currencies brought to Jerusalem by the international visitors.
As Jesus surveyed the scene a look of rage and contempt swept over him like a dark thunder cloud that precedes a violent storm. With the sudden force of a tornado he swept through the place driving out the money changers, merchants, and shoppers; tables toppled and chairs thrown everywhere, in a whirlwind of pigeons, cages, coins, goats and lambs sent scurrying by the torrent of fury that flew through the court scattering everyone and everything in his path. Jesus’ anger was an awesome sight that left all of us standing, trembling, in shock and awe, mouths gaping wide, jaws dropped in utter fear and amazement.
Like thunder his voice carried his words echoing throughout the outer court,
“Is it not written? My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations? But you have made it a den of robbers!” As suddenly as the storm came it was over and a quiet hush fell over the crowd as His thunderous rebuke rang out and echoed through the halls of the outer court. Silence before Omnipotent force exposed for an instance and as quickly shrouded again in his cloak of humanity. He stood there, out of breath, staring, no glaring at them, sweating from the ordeal. Then, one by one they came to him; the outcasts, the blind, the deaf, and the lame, like lost sheep that suddenly see and hear their true shepherd. They surrounded him and reached out to him. He placed his powerful, gentle hand upon each one and spoke healing to them. The children came with shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David!” Shouts that filled the court with praise to the outrage of the chief priests and teachers of the law who stood by witnessing all that had transpired. “Do you hear what the children are saying?” they asked him. “Yes,” he replied, “have you never read, ‘From the lips of children and infants You have ordained praise?” (Psalm 6:8)
This crowd was the one that brought Jesus to tears of joy; the lame, the broken, the children who spontaneously responded to Him, who saw who He truly was and willingly came to Him freely, openly, receiving Him and proclaiming His praise, sincerely from hearts of gratitude and adoration for their true liberator. He came for those who needed him most and who had eyes to see their need and to see the only one who could meet them where they were; childlike and needy. Over these, Jesus rejoiced! And then it was night.
The next morning, after a night of rest in Bethany, as we headed back again to Jerusalem on this now regular route, we passed the spot where Jesus had cursed the fig tree, the day before. I say, “The Spot” because all that remained was a withered to the roots remnant of the flourishing green leafed tree. Peter remarked to Jesus, “Teacher, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!” Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go throw yourself into the sea!’, and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore, I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” (Mark 11:21-26)
The Teacher was in True form this day and our faith rose in our hearts as His words rained down on us like liquid, golden, sunshine. This would be a day for seeing Jesus at His best. We were “raring” to go and ready for action as Jerusalem lay before us like a radiant jewel set high in a golden setting rising up above the valleys and surrounding desert. She was His and we all knew it, especially after yesterday’s triumph at the temple.
Word spread of his dramatic display of power and authority at the temple, the seat of leadership, worship and hope for Israel. The centerpiece of the national identity. This was God’s House for God’s people, still standing even under Roman occupation, invincible, indestructible, The Temple of God.
Yesterday we saw the joy, the hope of the people, the common people rallying around Jesus. Today they were all there, waiting as an audience excited for the next act to begin of a riveting performance, sitting on the edge of their seats, hanging on every word, eyes fixed on his every gesture, waiting for his next appearance at the temple. The buzz of excited chatter filled the court yard as those who missed yesterday’s action got caught up with blow by blow descriptions from willing eyewitnesses reporting the story.
The challengers were assembled with their prepared interrogators poised and ready to launch their skilled verbal barrage of carefully scripted questions designed to trip up Jesus. The unspoken question of the day hung in the morning mist asked by all in attendance, “Who is this man called Jesus?” He challenges the very foundation of authority in Israel established for hundreds of years the centerpiece of their national heritage. Only a king could rule them but even a king would bow to the authority of the temple. What kind of man would dare challenge the authority of the temple and the chief priests and teachers of the law? Nobody does that! Not even the Romans ruffled their feathers for fear of an uprising.
Jesus arrived and as he walked through the temple court he greeted those assembled, each one with a smile, a gentle touch, a warm embrace, lifting children up in the air and kissing them before handing them back to their mother’s arms. He seemed relaxed and in his own element and the crowd loved him. However, not everyone was pleased to see him. The priests, teachers and elders came to him with the question of the day, “By what authority are you doing these things and who gave you authority to do this?” Jesus answered with his own question; something we had seen him do before when there was a deeper lesson to be learned. “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—was it from heaven or from men? Tell me!” They were stumped. If they said from heaven, then he had them and would ask them why they did not believe John. If they said from men, well, they feared the crowd who held that John was a prophet of God. So they played it safe and answered, “We don’t know.” Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things!” (Mark 11:28-33) “THESE THINGS”…”These things, like, healing the lame, restoring sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, raising the dead? These things? What authority could authorize THESE THINGS?
Time after time they came at him that day with new questions, only to land in their own traps and the crowd loved it. Attempting to make Jesus appear foolish their own folly was revealed in a comedy of errors leaving them all tied up in their own web of words. So, they gave up, for the day, and slipped off in disgrace into the shadows as the crowds cried out for more.
As the day’s shadows grew we made our way to Bethany laughing and joking as we reenacted the scenes of the day. As the sun descended behind the mountain, I noticed Jesus staring off in the distance, lost in his thoughts. He looked tired. I moved closer to him and spoke privately with him. “Master, you look tired and like you could use some rest.” Yes, James, you are right. Tonight and tomorrow we rest.” I knew if we were to rest he must have big plans for the rest of the week. We made it back to Bethany as the last rays of the sun disappeared behind the mountain, the one we had climbed so many times. His words came to my mind from the morning, “If anyone says to this mountain….” What authority in deed. And then it was night.
When we arrived in Bethany our host led us to a waiting celebration dinner in honor of Jesus. It took us all by surprise as we entered the house full of old friends and some new ones as well. Simon, known as Simon the Leper, a label he wore proudly as it symbolized his former life of exclusion from society, that is, until the day on the road to Jericho, he met Jesus.
His complexion was like a young child’s now with not even a wrinkle with the exception of distinct laugh lines from the edge of his eyes almost reaching his temples having replaced the disfigured, scaly sores that covered him from head to foot, before he met Jesus. He literally glowed with his beaming smile greeting us with a warm embrace as we entered his palatial compound.
The torches were lighted to welcome the guests illuminating the entire courtyard just inside the compound gate. The fragrance of jasmine filled the air from the foliage hanging from the rafters opening to the dark star filled sky above. A shimmering pool of clear water was the centerpiece of the garden surrounded by blooming lilies, and palms swaying in the cool evening breeze. It spoke of rest and calm, still waters to restore our road weary souls. It was so inviting I almost wanted to lay down in the cool grass and call it a day but the guests were laughing and chattering and excitedly welcoming the guest of honor so as a member of his entourage, I moved toward the elaborately decorated gathering room where the feast had already begun.
The room was alive with an energy you could feel and a joy you could see in the shining faces of all the celebrants. This was the time of the year families gathered from their distant homes abroad to the center of the celebration, Jerusalem and its surrounds. The remembrance of the Passover was the most celebrated event among our people representing like no other festival our deliverance from bondage as slaves in Egypt.
The days leading up to the actual Passover supper which would take place the following night, were days of special gatherings like the one we were attending at Simon’s. This was the time for friends to gather, relax, reminisce, get caught up and enjoy good food, friends and fellowship. What a welcome retreat from the heat of the battle of the day left behind in Jerusalem. I found myself unwinding and letting loose the stored tensions of the day from facing such opposition, verbal attacks and mental maneuvering of the priests and teachers of the law. Even though we scored victory after victory in the arena of debate, our energies waned from the intensity of the resistance and strife. I was so glad that that was behind us and felt refreshed by the contrasting warmth of this elaborate reception.
As John and I led the guys in close step behind Jesus, we were all greeted by Simon’s servants kneeling, lifting one of our sandals at a time, loosing it and then bathing our feet in basins of fresh water with rose petals floating on the surface. At first I instinctively drew my foot back not being accustomed to such luxurious treatment. After all, we were fishermen and commoners. Such treatment was reserved for the most honored guests at a banquet usually dignitaries or wealthy aristocrats. John broke into an ear to ear grin and then roared with a belly laugh he was famous for, seeing his brother’s feet being treated in such a dainty and dignified manner. The rest of the guys joined in as their laughter rose and blended with the celebrators who were in high spirits. The laughter filled the night air with sweet relief as sweet as the fragrance of the garden we had passed through. A gentle night wind carried the sound and smells commingled throughout the compound arousing our senses as the sudden sound of music lifted the guests to their feet and the dance began.
One of the young maidens rose to her feet with “Miriam’s” tambourine in her hands and a song on her lips familiar to the crowd and we all joined in and sang the song of deliverance, “I will sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted. The horse and its rider He has hurled into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise Him, my father’s God, and I will exalt Him!”
All the young women and even some of the older ones joined in the dance with clapping and whirling exuberance their colorful festive ornaments flashing to the rhythm of the dance.
The men moved by the fairer sexes bravado rose to their feet and linking arms began circling the colorful collage of whirling scarves and gowns and the music and singing grew stronger raising the tempo and the key to a higher and brighter range.
“The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name. Pharaoh’s chariots and his army he has hurled into the sea…” Now everyone joined in women, children, even the servants and the old men too!
“Who among the god’s is like you, O Lord? Who is like you—Majestic in Holiness awesome in Glory, working wonders?…You will bring your people in and plant them on the mountain of your inheritance—the place, O Lord, you made for your dwelling, the sanctuary, O Lord, your hands established. The Lord will reign for ever and ever.”
(Exodus 15 excerpts)
As the crescendo climatically concluded with shouts and clapping and Hallelujah’s and Amen’s we were politely called to the awaiting feast, on cue as if the servant had awaited the precise appropriate moment allowing us all just enough time to catch our breaths and then to proceed to the lavish banquet spread before us in the gathering room.
Jesus smiled approvingly as we all assembled around the banquet table. He always had a twinkle of delight in his eyes when he saw us let loose and raise the roof with our laughter, singing and dancing although the look for the dance was more of amusement and pleasurable satisfaction. He was always encouraging us to stretch and move out of our comfort zones and music and celebration always seemed to provide the right ambiance and atmosphere for freer expression.
We enjoyed our time together and relished moments like this when we could see Jesus in his full expression of joy. And let me tell you, the man could dance and sing and laugh and enjoy the moment like no one I have ever known. He was truly the life of the party and the center of the celebration without demanding all the attention. In fact we all knew he was the reason we were all there beyond celebrity status. No this was much more. We knew he was sent from God.
We believed him when he said he was the Son of Man, our Messiah. We knew this and yet he made us all feel so at home with ourselves in his presence like we were free to say and do and be all we had ever dreamed of being and he was there always drawing us out enticing us to be all we could be. He could do that for you like no one else could. More than family or friends. More than any Rabbi I had ever talked with. Just being with him and watching him move among people weighing them all as if searching for gold or silver or precious jewels. Looking always, looking for even a spark of faith within us. When he found it you would have thought he had won the greatest prize of his life. He so rejoiced over this more than over anything else.
He looked beyond the crowds and saw you, standing there and you would know he saw you and you would be drawn like the force of the sun draws the morning mist into the air suspended in time and space swirling in a sparkling spectacle of glory. Reflected glory as the sun light passes through the mist and gives it visible life. This was what it was like to be with him and know he knew you. Everyone at the party felt this elation in his presence. He, the center of all our affection and attention, transformed us into all we could be so that we felt whole, complete not autonomous from him rather an extension of him.
As I watched the lanterns illuminate the room drawing the fuel oil through the wick. This was how it was with him. Drawing our life, our energy, like fuel producing light, from him. We all felt unanimously enamored and captivated by the guest of honor who unlike any other made us feel honored by just being in his presence.
Light given and reflected back growing brighter with each exchange. The glory of the moment like sparks from a fire rising in the night burn as embers in my mind warming the memory of him.
As we reclined around the gathering room refreshed and full from the meal, one of Jesus’ favorites quietly approached him as everyone’s eyes followed her every move wondering what she was going to do. He was the guest of honor. Was she, a woman now going to say something publicly to him or about him? Even among friends this would be considered indiscrete and terribly inappropriate. After all, this was Simon’s house and surely he would be the one to give the evening greeting and toast to the guest of honor.
The room grew still and quiet as she took an alabaster jar from the table and broke it. The fragrance filled the room of pure nard the most precious of perfumes as she raised it over Jesus’ head and began pouring it over him. It flowed from the crown of his head down his beard to his robe. Then she poured the remainder of the precious ointment on his feet and bowing down she began wiping his feet with her now loosened hair.
The gasps from the guests were only overshadowed by the dissonant scornful rebuke of one of our own, Judas of Iscariot, who thunderously decried the act as a complete waste of good perfume. After all, he argued, the money from the perfume could have helped the poor and downcast. His harsh rebuke was met with the greater force of the compassionate defense of Jesus who sternly warned, “Leave her alone! Why are you bothering her: She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them anytime you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial.
I tell you the truth, wherever the good news is preached throughout the world, what she has done will be told, in memory of her.” (Mark 14:6-9)
The astonished crowd marveled at his words and the sight of Mary on her knees bowing before him, wiping his feet lovingly with her long black hair. Judas who had risen to his feet turned to leave at the stern rebuke humiliation, pride and anger clearly displayed for all to see as he flew from the room into the outer darkness of the night.
It rained today and we rested.
As the morning sunlight softly began to illuminate the sky the pastel colors painted the room where I lay sleeping with a golden rose glow that caressed my eyes and lifted me from a deep slumber. It was too early to rise but a distant rooster began to crow announcing the coming of the new day. I pulled my cloak over my head to buy a few more winks before rising from my restful, warm cocoon.
The air was pristine clean with the freshness of the passing storm of the night and previous day and only the gentle drops remaining in the trees outside my window splashed in subdued patter on the stones below.
My mind was more awake than my body and the argument began battling within me to just lay still or stir. After all, we had rested for a full day and the enjoyment of that rare experience lingered in my mind as the sun gradually grew brighter. My body yielded to my mind’s rebukes and I lifted my self from my bed in a moment of sheer will power, mind over matter so to speak. Jesus was already up and walking around outside the house enjoying the beauty of the new day’s creative pallet in the sky, a sunrise that was one of the most breathtaking I had ever seen. The storm clouds now in the distance offered the perfect backdrop for the sunlight as the canvas of the sky came alive with the most vivid blues, rose, gold’s, peach and reddish-oranges you can imagine.
Three gulls soared overhead blown off course no doubt from the furry of the passing storm. “The lake’s that way!” I felt like saying to them but I restrained my thoughts remembering, “O yeah, they’re just birds and probably won’t take directions from a land bound fisherman. Their familiar high pitch cry brought longing feelings for the sea and my previous life to mind which now was no more than a pastime.
Since following Jesus, we had learned a new way of fishing. We had learned how to “Fish for men”, and he was the Master fisherman. His bait was the lure for life; abundant, splashing, dazzling, fulfilling life. His net was his all encompassing love that swept you up, enfolding you in an embrace of acceptance that completely overwhelmed you and left you speechless and amazed that someone like him could see you for not only who you were but for who you could be.
Seeing yourself reflected in his eyes gave clarity to eternal worth beyond earthly measure or comprehension. His worth reflected in you transforming your transitory existence into the realm of the eternal in the blink of an eye. This mystery compelled me to wonder if possibly my existence was pre-known or deliberate beyond the will of my father or mother or anyone else other than God, my maker, as a part of a greater purpose more glorious than I could even imagine.
We all knew the teachings of the Word of God. His sovereignty, His majesty, His power. We all knew the stories that we celebrated in song and traditions of his great works. We knew the prophecies of a coming Messiah who would rule and reign in righteousness, but this? A man who looked like me and my brother, who looked like the guys in our band of twelve followers. A man like any other in the crowd of bearded men. This was the greatest of all mysteries.
He had all the moves and manners of a great leader but where were his kingly credentials? Herod ruled the land and he had sons to follow in his blood stained foot steps. They were notorious for being even crueler than their father if that were possible. So, where did Jesus fit into this picture? When would we see him rise to power? Would we all be banished to the wilderness like David and his band of followers until we could gather an army to march on Jerusalem and route the renegade Jewish sellouts who held their positions of power at the pleasure and whim of Rome? Would we sweep down on them all, swords and shields blazing in the sun overwhelming the legions of Roman guards and troops stationed in our land? Would he draw together by his persuasive powers the various factions, splinter groups, and zealots who fought harder against each other than against their common enemies of Rome and Rome’s lap dogs, the house of Herod and his cronies?
Too many questions raced through my mind for this time of day. Breakfast would be light this morning as we prepared for the evening Passover meal and my thoughts began to awaken to the significance of this day. Today was the day for the Passover Lamb to be slain. The tender, tame, family lamb that by now had become the family pet.
For days before Passover, the tradition required the lamb to be chosen and placed in the care of the homemaker. She would bring the lamb inside the home and he would have free run of the house. The children loved this time of year when an animal would run through the house jumping, bumping, playing, baaing, tumbling with the children in continuous scurrying fun.
At evening, the lamb would be tied to the leg of the table drinking milk from a bowl lovingly placed by one of the children who always jostled for who would be closest to the lamb that night. They often named them sweet, pet names and sometime made garlands for their necks from flowers in the fields. The trick was to get it on them without them eating it first. And so it was in the home where we stayed but today the lamb would serve the purpose for which it had been chosen. Perfect, without blemish, pure white, soft, woolly, with distinct dark feet and muzzle, washed and ready for the moment of truth.
The father would take the lamb and gently lead it with the children following.
They would give it one last hug and kiss and often with tears speak soft words of comfort and sweet tender good-byes and then it was over. Blood soaked wool, crimson fleece, lifeless form, blood splattered ground.
The mother would receive the portions of fresh mutton prepared for the fire as the father painted the doorposts, across the top and both sides with the hyssop dipped in the blood of the freshly slain lamb. A tender sacrifice of love lost and life given. Protection from the darkness of death, passing over the powerless, depending solely on the sacrificial substitute whose life was given that they might live. Glorious mystery of salvation transmitted through time wrapped in the sublime message of hope through a splattered blood covering, from a sacrificed innocent lamb.
Jesus spoke to Peter and my brother, John regarding the place where we would partake of the Passover supper tonight, while we finished breakfast. They left together to find it and to prepare for our arrival later this evening. As he spoke to them, I was curious about what he said because he only mentioned a man carrying a water jar and they were to follow him. No address was given, just these unusual instructions. It was odd that a man would be doing something considered woman’s work and then we were used to the unusual. Jesus rarely did things the usual way. This was one of the intriguing things about following him.
We never knew what would happen next or what we would be doing or where we were going ahead of time. It would drive some of the guys crazy especially Mathew the “bean counter” and Judas especially seemed bothered by it. He was a “bean counter” of sorts and must have been trusted greatly by Jesus because he took care of the business side of things carrying the money bag and keeping up with our expenses.
The rest of us who grew up chasing fish or following sheep were better suited for the unexpected, unplanned for events of life that steered our course from day to day. This time I noticed Judas seemed peeved over the plan that left all of us in the dark about where we would end up tonight having to leave it with Jesus and just follow him when it was time to go. He alone knew the location in Jerusalem where we would partake of the meal together. He did say it would be a large upper room which was always the preferred room of the house usually well ventilated and spacious with less clutter than the downstairs living quarters.
We relaxed through the morning until mid-afternoon when Jesus called us together to begin our walk to Jerusalem, once again. For the most part the streets were empty when we arrived in Jerusalem. Because we arrived in the city at dusk we traveled in obscurity unnoticed by the few remaining people we passed on the street obviously preoccupied with getting home before sundown for the supper.
We arrived at dusk to a spacious home in an affluent district of Jerusalem not to far from the palace and the temple area and primary markets. We climbed the outer stairs to the rooftop room fully furnished and prepared for our arrival.
Peter and John greeted us and began pouring the wine in our goblets for the supper.
As we all reclined around the table on the cushions and pillows provided for our comfort we quickly became increasingly uncomfortable with the sight unfolding before us. Jesus was not reclining with us. Instead he had removed his outer garment, wrapped a towel around his waste, took a basin filled it with water and began washing our feet. Our feet, our stinking, dusty, sandy, camel / donkey dong contaminated feet. It was the most unnatural, unbearable, embarrassing experience imaginable. This was servants work, not Messiah work. What was he doing? He spoke not a word but moved from one to the next until he washed all our feet.
Peter was sitting next to me and began to squirm the closer Jesus came to him. When Jesus reached Peter he questioned him saying, “Lord are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize what I am doing but later you will understand.” As he spoke Peter drew his feet back and held out his hand and said, No way, Jesus! You will never wash my feet “Calmly, Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” “Then, Lord,” Peter replied, “not just my feet but do my hands and head as well!”
We all laughed to ourselves at Peter’s reply which was so typical of his all or nothing personality. Jesus answered, “A person that has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that is why he said not everyone was clean.
When he had finished washing all our feet he put on his clothes and returned to his place.
“Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked…” You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” “I am not referring to all of you. I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill the scripture; ‘He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.” “I am telling you now before it happens so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He. I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.”
After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.”
We all stared at each other in disbelief at a loss of knowing who he meant. We did not have a clue as to who he meant. Peter motioned to my brother, John to ask him who it was.
Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. As soon as Judas took the bread, satan entered into him. “What you are about to do, do quickly,” Jesus told him, but no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the Feast, or to give something to the poor. As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.
When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in Him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. “My children, I will be with you only a little while longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now, where I am going, you cannot come. A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied, “Where I am going you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.”
Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!”
(John 13 paraphrased and some verses quoted directly)
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the place where I am going.”
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him.
Phillip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered, “Don’t you know me, Phillip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me: The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing the work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (John 14:1-14)
While we were eating the evening meal, Jesus took the unleavened bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to us, saying, “Take it; this is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22:19-20)
He spoke late into the night and we listened to every word he spoke as if it were to be his last. He told us that when he went back to the Father, he would ask him to send us another Counselor to be with us forever—the Spirit of Truth, who would teach us everything we needed to know and would remind us of everything he had said to us.
He promised us that he would leave us His peace. His peace. That was it! That was what I knew from knowing him.
That was what gave me such a sense of wellness, wholeness, completeness like nothing I had ever experienced before. It was the very air I breathed everyday in His presence. It was what we all intuitively knew would be devastating to us to loose when he was gone.
His words that night stung in our hearts like harpoons lancing our woundedness. A mixture of shock, despair, panic, and confusion filled our conscious minds with impending doom. He was leaving. We would be alone again. All alone.
He sensed our desperation that flowed from our emotionally packed almost incoherent questioning and looks of despair facing the inevitable “end of the road.” He was leaving. He was doing his best to let us down easy but we were all crashing through the floor like a steel ball through paper mache’.
He was throwing us a rescue line, a life preserver as the waves crashed over us like that night on the Lake in the midst of the worst storm we had ever seen and there he was…walking on the waves like a stroll in the park.
His confidence and clarity and determined purpose flowed from his lips with flawless perfection as he explained the plan, the final scene, the time of departure but we weren’t ready for this. Even though he had tried to prepare us and tell us ahead of time, we all somehow just didn’t hear it or didn’t want to hear it so we just ignored what he had said as if he had never said it, but now it was here.
As we strained to hear comfort in his words, the storm subsided, the calm, though full of sadness returned, sanity sought its level and we all calmed down. He was going and we had to face it and just deal with it.
But how would I know his peace if he was no longer here? This new Counselor Spirit of Truth…what was this all about? My head pounded from the questions unanswered and from trying to take it all in, and I for one was way over my capacity of comprehension; way over my head in deep dismal dark despair. And for me, it was a very dark night on this night of nights.
LATE THURSDAY NIGHT
We made it across the Kidron Valley to one of his favorite places, the Mount of Olives. In the bright moon light we hardly needed lanterns to light the path as we found our way through the vineyards to the place of the olives, Gethsemane the locals called it, meaning “The Oil Press,” where the tender olives produced the oil our lamps were consuming, as they passed through the press.
This was where we had spent much time together listening to him preach to the crowds and to private teaching reserved just for us. We learned how to talk with the Father here in a way we had never heard from anyone in the temple. All of my life since childhood, I had heard the long elaborate prayers of the priest mouthing ritualistic formal petitions for all to hear, revere and admire. It was more theatrical and dramatic than relevant or meaningful but it was all I knew, until I met Jesus.
He spoke with the Father as you would to your own Abba. In fact, that was often what we heard him call him, Abba, “Daddy”, the name we all knew for our earthly fathers as small children. A name full of affection and familiarity, not at all like the distant chanting and verbose street corner prayers of the Pharisees and chief priests.
Jesus spoke to His Father as if he were having a conversation with him with long pauses as if he was actually hearing him speak before he would reply again. Some thought it strange almost like a child with an imaginary friend that they talk to and carry on conversations with in their heads.
He taught us to be brief, to the point and deliberate in our requests. Not beating around the bush with long drawn out dissertations on the way things ought to be. He was a “cut to the chase get it said and move on pray-er” yet he also lingered for long periods of time, sometimes all night in conversation with His Father.
We marveled at his veracity and stamina for staying with it until, well, until he was through. He loved His time alone with His Abba even more than His time with us all though I surmised that much of his time was devoted to discourse on our behalf. I know this because I know how much he cares about each one of us.
He always seemed more concerned and interested in me and my wellbeing even more than I was capable of caring which is saying a lot since I spend most of my time preoccupied with my own life, something I am working on even to this day. He seemed to have the capacity to care about me beyond my comprehension and would willingly sacrifice his time, attention, affection, and personal comfort for mine, in a heart beat.
He inspired unselfishness by his selflessness. All of us where touched by this on a deep level that changed us and the way we were with each other and other people in ever increasing measure. It was as if looking at ourselves through Jesus’ eyes changed not only the way we saw ourselves but how we saw everyone else as well. No longer did we see ourselves as temporary earth dwellers amongst other temporary earth dwellers but rather we saw eternity in ourselves and consequently in everyone else.
Eternal potential for good or evil in everyone and we had a growing sense that what we did now impacted the eternal, like a stone thrown into a still smooth pool creating ever expanding circular ripples. Our words, our thoughts, our attitudes, our motives, our actions, all echoing throughout the Universe affecting the Cosmos for all eternity for the betterment of all or the detriment and undoing of all, and all this left up to us to choose and decide. Who was up to such a task? Certainly not me, and especially not this night as my head continued to pound from too much thinking, sadness, and uncertainty. I just needed to know he was still here where I could see him, hear him, touch him and know He was real and really here.
He called Peter, my brother John and me to follow him up the slope to a grove of olive trees where we stopped. He asked us to wait with him and to pray while he went up a little further and fell to his knees on the ground. I could see his silhouette in the moonlight and began to hear him sob, and cry out in pain to The Father. It was hard to listen to him in such agony. I didn’t want to hear him. It sounded as if he was arguing, pleading, as if he were begging for his life.
The next sounds I heard were the snores of Peter and Brother John. There rhythmic breathing soon covered the distant sounds of tearful pleas and I lay down in a semi- conscious half sleep half awake state until I gave in and drifted off.
Suddenly, we heard him standing over us saying, “Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:37-38)
We raised ourselves up from our stupor, embarrassed and grieved that we had failed him in his time of deepest need. How could I do this to him? He never let me down. All he had asked was for us to stay awake. My head was pounding where I could not think of anything at this moment but the hammering in my brain. I sat up for a few minutes and gradually lay back down. Once my head touched the ground I was gone.
Two more times, He came back and the last time I noticed he was covered, no drenched in sweat with dark stains resembling blood stains on his robe. His face was resolved, determined and remarkably serene considering the ordeal he had been enduring for the past several hours.
As we slept, he wept. As we rested, he wrestled. As we turned our minds off, he turned his life over to The Father to do with it as he saw fit and now the Son stood ready to embrace that Will, having entrusted the outcome of his life into His Father’s hands. In surrender He stood the victor, resolute, assured with a confidence that exuded from every fiber of his being. He was ready for whatever would happen next.
MIDNIGHT FRIDAY MORNING
“Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priest, the teachers of the law, and the elders.
Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. The men seized Jesus and arrested him. Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.
“Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Everyday I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the scriptures must be fulfilled.” Then everyone deserted him and fled. (Mark 14:41-50)
We ran for our lives struck with our most natural instinct of “fight or flight” the latter won out in that decisive moment. Like rabbits running for their burrows, like sheep scatter when their shepherd has fallen.
We were scared, no terrified, in the flight of our lives. In a moment like this, all reason vanishes like a mist, all sanity surrenders to the tyranny of the urgent surging impulse of a life and death decision choosing life in the moment with the justifying thought of better odds tomorrow, to run to protect to just get away. Cowards of the worst kind. Pledging undying loyalty in the unchallenged moment only to be revealed as frauds in the crucible fire of authentication. We were whipped, beaten, undeniably defeated and engulfed in our dungeon of darkest aloneness and despair.
Peter, the bravest of our cowardly crew, drew back his sword in utter disbelief as Jesus bent down, picked up the remnants of an ear and gently placed it back whole and intact as if nothing ever happened on the servants head who stood in shock with the most amazingly puzzled look on his face as if to say, “What am I doing here facing this enemy who shows love and compassion even in his moment of capture and defeat?”
Peter dropped his sword and ran with the rest of us into the darkness that served as our only protection from the torched led crowd that gradually disappeared from our view. The darkness was the only buffer between us and them as we ran distancing ourselves ever further from the threat of their returning to capture the rest of us. He stopped short of following us and I saw him standing facing the ground, staring at his feet, then he turned and slowly began walking in the direction of the torches, in the direction of the crowd headed towards Jerusalem as we headed “for the hills “.
They took Jesus to the high priest and all the chief priests, elders and teachers of the law came together. Peter followed at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. There he sat with the guards and warmed himself at the fire. The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death but they did not find any. Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree. (Mark 14:53-56)
Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the chief priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” “I AM, “ said Jesus, “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
The high priest tore his clothes. “Why do we need any more witnesses?” he asked. “You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” They all condemned him as worthy of death. Then some began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, “Prophesy!” And the guards took him and beat him.
While Peter was below in the courtyard one of the servant girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him. “You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus, she said. But he denied it. “I don’t know or understand what you are talking about,” he said and went out into the entry way. When the servant girl saw him there, she said again to those standing around, “This fellow is one of them.” Again he denied it.
After a little while, those standing near said to Peter, “Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” He began calling down curses on himself, and swore to them, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about.” (Mark 14:61-71) Just as he was speaking the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.
Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him. “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly. (Luke 22:60-62)
EARLY FRIDAY MORNING
At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and teacher of the law, met together and Jesus was led before them. “If you are the Messiah, they said, “tell us.”
Jesus answered, “If I tell you, you will not believe me, and if I asked you, you would not answer. But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the Mighty God.”
They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?”
He replied, “You are right in saying I AM.” Then they said, “Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard if from his own lips. Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be the Messiah, a king.”
So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
“Yes, it is as you say.” Jesus replied. Then Pilate announced to the whole crowd, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.”…When he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod who was also in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform some miracle. He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priest and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate.
Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers of the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. Therefore, I will punish him and then release him.
With one voice they cried out, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!”…
Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” For the third time he spoke to them: “Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then released.”
But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. So Pilate decided to grant their demand.
He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.
As they led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!” Then “they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!” For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 22:66-23:31)
They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull). Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get. (Mark 15:22-24)
FRIDAY MORNING AROUND 9:00
It was the third hour when they crucified him. The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS. They crucified two robbers with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You, who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!” In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself!” Let this Messiah, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.
At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” [Psalm 22:1]
When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.” One man, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink.
“Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.
With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.
(It is now exactly 3:00pm Good Friday, April 18, 2003 as I just wrote these last words. [my footnote; Jim Palmer])
The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”
Some women were watching from a distance….. (Mark 15:22-40)
We all stood there, with the women; watching from a distance, in disbelief.
It was here, where time and space collided in this cataclysmic moment, in this place called Golgotha, “The Skull”. It was there, where all hope was demolished for a brighter tomorrow. It was where all reason for being was lost, languishing in the throws of the darkness of death, defying all reason, crucifying all purpose for living, over there, on that cruel Roman cross, He breathed his last and cried out, “It is finished!”
His last words rang out in my mind like the sound of the hammer on the cold steel spikes driven through his flesh that penned him to the cross sections of the tree; the rough cut hewn crosshairs of the arrow driven deep into my very heart with all the force it could muster penning me to the ground, frozen in time; dead to his dying, numb in shock at his final cry as the lifeblood drained out of his lifeless body in a crimson, dark, pool on the ground below. No shadow did he cast suspended in space and time between heaven and earth, arms spread open wide as if to say, “This much…I loved you, this much, I gave you, this much…it is all I had to give and was all yours for the taking.”
Even his clothes stripped from his striped and broken body were offered leaving him fully exposed, fully revealed, naked, vulnerable, powerlessly appearing, fully surrendered, submitted to “Lord Death”, covered in apparent shame and defeat as spit, sweat, and blood, commingled, dripping down, rhythmically falling like the drum beat of a dirge; “Patter…Patter….Patter”, the pattern of splattered life staining the crimson ground in ever increasing measure until there was no more.
All lost. All gone. Forever and ever, Amen.
As silent tears fell, the sky grew dark and began to weep over the blood drained body of Jesus, “The Lamb of God.” It was over. It was finished. We slowly turned and walked away and made it back to Jerusalem as the last rays of sun were engulfed in the darkness, and it was night.
Thus, the empty words of darkness engulfed my soul as my mind screamed out for reason, for sanity, for some understanding of what had happened. Jesus the Messiah was not supposed to die, was He? This was not our script for our Triumphant King. Was it all a farce? Some deep, cynical, cruel, cosmic joke?
Numb and speechless, I stumbled home to Jerusalem to our last and final meeting place, the upper room where what seemed another life ago we where there, with Him, safe, secure, confident of better things to come.
Some how we all knew to go back there, to the last place of sanctuary and peace. It was there he promised his peace and comfort. It was there he told us again he was going away. Now we gathered, huddled together like a bunch of scattered sheep seeking some solace in the presence of our small flock. Why here? What were we waiting for? What do we do now?
Most of us said nothing and just tried to fall asleep to no avail. Sleep would not come to us this night.
We posted a guard at the door and hoped no one saw us slipping back into town through the alleys and empty back streets, heads covered, avoiding eye contact, staring down at our feet only looking up to avoid colliding with those we encountered on our way.
We all made it back, that is, except the betrayer. He was gone; his absence the only comfort we found knowing his end.
Restless night, so exhausted from the previous twenty four hours, we were too tired to sleep.
Dozing off and on, in and out of a semiconscious state, every time I closed my eyes, I saw him hanging there in space, between heaven and earth, silhouetted against a backdrop of darkness, surreal and unexplained daytime darkness, so thick you could cut it with a knife, only relieved after the rain came, thinning the air with great bolts of lightning and deafening rolls of thunder.
Clear skies, clean fresh air charged with the energy of the now passed storm revealed every star in the universe, visible to our naked eyes. A calmness carried by a gentle night breeze came to rest upon us blowing through the open windows across the large gathering room.
The fragrance of wild flowers blooming on the hills near by mixed with the smoke of the roasting pits of the Passover lambs filled our senses with fresh reminders of this time and place known as Jerusalem, the city of Peace made between God and man.
As I wrestled in final resistance to much needed sleep, heaviness carried my mind to a weary slumber; in quiet confusion my mind asked the final conscious question, “is that the fragrance of flowers or is it myrrh perfuming the air?”
I awoke to turbulent murmuring that filled the room like the sound of warring bees fighting for a way out once trapped inside a room confused by the walls and barriers to freedom on the other side. It was John and Peter at it again discussing, no arguing over what would happen next.
Thaddeus had just returned from a secret excursion to the outer courts where his cousin, one of the temple guards, reported in confidence the events that had transpired since last night. Early this morning, the guard had accompanied the chief priests and teachers of the law to a secret meeting with Pilate.
“Sir, they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give us the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse that the first.”
“Take a guard, Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting a guard.
As the rest of our group began to awaken the women arrived startling us all with their knocking on the door until Philip who was on guard duty said, “Do not be afraid, it is only the women arriving with breakfast.” We all breathed a heavy sigh of relief having feared the worst and expecting armed guards, our spirits lifted at the sight of the women with fresh bread in their arms and a few fish to boot.
My mother and Mary Magdalene reported to our group of their eye witness account of a rich man named Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Sanhedrin who had become a disciple of Jesus and had not consented to their decision and action and Nicodemus, one of the believing Pharisee’s, who had secretly met with Jesus one night, came to Pilate after Jesus’ had died and asked for his body. Pilate though surprised that he was already dead consented to their request. Nicodemus brought seventy five pounds of a mixture of aloes and myrrh and the two of them took Jesus’ body and wrapped it with the spices in strips of linen. They had then placed it in a new empty tomb in a garden near the place of his death.
The women had observed Joseph and Nicodemus as they prepared his body for burial and they watched and noted the exact place of his burial. It was good to hear that he had at least been given a decent burial though being comforted by this news was beyond my reach.
I was quite hungry this morning after the long ordeal of yesterday. I couldn’t remember anything I had eaten since the supper we had had in this gathering room two nights ago.
We were all hungry this morning and ate everything the women had brought to us.
Some of us ashamedly were still hungry after the morning meal and decided to head to the market for some fresh fruit and fresh news of the day when John casually asked, “Do none of you remember what day this is?” Still dazed and confused from the numbing and confounding events from the nightmare of Friday, we with a jolt of reality remembered the Sabbath.
No markets were open today until sunset tonight. Not a good day to be wandering around the streets of Jerusalem either in light of what had happened to Him and the people knowing we were his closest followers. What if we were spotted by the temple guards or pointed out by someone in the crowd who happened to recognize one of us.
I felt liked a caged animal pacing back and forth in front of the barred door. Peter had suggested that we close and bar the windows as well lest someone happen to glance up and see one of us. We debated the point and all agreed to leave the windows open just not venture close enough to it to be seen from below.
Survival seemed the only theme of the day. Like refugees on the run, we spent the day planning our escape from Jerusalem to who knows where. Could we risk returning to Galilee, to our fishing village? Everyone there knew about our sudden leaving of our father “holding the nets” as we ran off after this man Jesus. It was the talk of the village even to this day as to what had come over the sons of Zebedee? We knew of good fishing along the great sea, perhaps that would be a safer place to assume anonymity and blend in with the other fishermen but even there they would know we were strangers, drifters who were always watched with a weary eye. What would become of us?
Where would we ever be safe after all of this?
Peter feared for his family as well and we all knew of his concern for his ailing mother in law who seemed fine for the time being since her miraculous healing when Jesus came to town. But what of the future? Who would be there if she suddenly grew ill again or suffered a relapse? Peter’s wife was certainly not capable of managing everything on her own was she? And Zebedee, our father, what about him? He would soon be at the age where he would finally have to hang up the nets and assume a less strenuous lifestyle on the shore line fishing with the grandkids.
All this anxious tumultuous reasoning was more than I could stand. As the morning blended into afternoon I couldn’t take the confinement another minute. I bolted for the door demanding that John get out of my way. He tried to restrain me but I broke free and made it down the back staircase to the alleyway below.
I pulled my hood over my head and made my way through the narrow passage ways to the nearest gate leading out of the city, to the Hinnom Valley below known as
Smoke and wet steam rising in perpetual plumes from the rotting, smoldering refuge of the city rose from the awaiting pit below.
Topeth; the fire pit, place of shameful things done in past generations. The place where human child sacrifices were haplessly thrown into a raging inferno as a sacrifice to pagan gods. Now a trash dump built on the remains of the sacrificed innocents covered in the remnants of waste layered as sedimentation for many generations.
The distant anguished cries from those buried in this make shift grave, under a blanket of debris, still rise in the stillness of the day ever fainter as each day new layers of ash cover the sight like softly fallen, black, soot, snow.
I wandered through the manmade fog down the path left by ancient ancestral footprints past the smoldering rubble, flies, and acrid stench, truly through “the valley of death”.
I found a place off to the outer edge and fell to my knees on a cold, damp, blackened mound and tore my robe and covered my anguished head in ashes. I sobbed in great convulsive waves of sorrow but only dry tears came from my depleted, dehydrated eyes. Even the smoke drew not a tear as I screamed out in unintelligible groans of despair. Loosing all sense of time, I grew weaker with excruciating grief until exhaustion over took my mind and I slowly drifted away losing consciousness remaining suspended in time as the day grew fainter and dimmer and once again, it was night.
I found myself awakened from a surreal slumber as a crackling fire rekindled and shed light upon my face. I had been lying in “Ge’ Hinnom” for what seemed eternal hours.
Recovering somewhat from my exhaustion, I slowly rose to my feet and headed back up to the Essene gate where as fate would have it,
I had entered this most dreadful place earlier in the day, mainly because it was the closest way out of Jerusalem from where we were staying and a desolate place of aloneness and despair suitable for my frame of mind.
I was drawn by the seeming warmth of the evening lamps now lighting the corridors of Jerusalem. I made it to the nearest pool where I washed and refreshed myself as best I could and headed back to the gathering room in hopes of arriving in time for the evening meal.
As I approached the stairs leading to the upper room, my mother and the other Mary’s arrived simultaneously with their purchases of spices they had just bought in the market after sundown.
They noticed my disheveled appearance and with a knowing look my mother said, “There’s a new robe waiting for you upstairs. I thought you might be ready for a change in wardrobe.” I asked about the spices and they said they were for anointing of His body in the morning. I knew not to ask more as this could only be a solemn reverential display of love they intended for the Master’s body.
The actual preparation and burial had already taken place the previous night. I wondered at their selfless act of sacrifice in stark contrast to the way I had spent the afternoon and evening in groveling solitude without solace in my personal graveyard of grief.
The evening lamps warmed the otherwise stark room where my comrades awaited my return with wondering questions about my whereabouts. Glad for my safe return they strongly encouraging me to change before the meal informing me of a basin of fresh water and towel awaiting me in the changing room.
By now we all had come to the realization that all that had happened in fact had happened and it was real. No one among us had a clue as to what we should do next although the debate ran on throughout the evening meal and into the night before one by one we withdrew from the discussion in retreat and fatigue.
I lingered by the window overlooking the inner courtyard of the home we now called our temporary residence, this upper room, still perfumed from the spices carried by the women. The quiet pool below reflected the image of the full moon above rising in ever increasing brightness as a lone mourning dove cooed softly in an overhead tree branch. A peaceful rest drew me into its gentle embrace and I drifted off to sleep in the stillness of the night.
My night sleep was short lived as I awoke in the darkness. Not knowing how long I had been asleep nor how soon the sun would rise; I lay on my pallet, a makeshift bed of straw and my cloak. I bemoaned my afternoon nap that now robbed me of sleep in the depth of the night.
This was the watch of the night that all guards dreaded the most, between nightfall and sunrise, the “endless watch” they called it when the greatest battle is to stay awake until the morning light. I thought about them at that moment as my consciousness awoke to the realization that I would not sleep again this night.
I thought about the band of Roman guards keeping watch, probably by fire light at the garden tomb where He lay, sleeping the sleep of death. There he lay, cold as the stone slab he lay upon in darkness hidden from all wondering eyes. He could rest now from his turbulent toil and sacrificial outpouring which was his life. Oh how my heart ached from his absence. The wound still fresh from the piercing truth of his death, my loss and the empty prospect of life without him.
I lay there suspended on the edge of consciousness when all of a sudden, I was thrown in the air as a deafening explosion and “earth shattering” convulsion came from the depths of the primeval underworld, reverberating with a powerful, violent upward wave as if the solid ground had suddenly been turned to liquid and was being shaken for all it was worth. The floor sank beneath me and then rose to lift me and throw me around like a hurricane tossing a fishing boat hopelessly out of control. As the earth heaved and cracked, timbers split and everything hanging crashed to the ground in shattered pieces.
In an instant it was over leaving no one asleep but assuredly terrified, dazed and confused and definitely awake.
We had been through earthquakes and tremors before but this was unlike any we had ever experienced, as if the whole earth was grabbed by its four corners and shaken by unseen all powerful hands as if to shout in a deafening voice, “WAKE UP!”
All Jerusalem awoke this Sunday morning at precisely the same time, just before dawn with a shaking we will not soon forget. We could hear shouts and cries throughout the Upper City district as people ran into the streets as if to see if the “Day of the Lord” had come.
As the sun rose amazingly no one was killed or even injured from this most violent upheaval in modern history. For sure some foundations were cracked and buildings were moved from their resting places but after the damage was surveyed and the dust settled no one claimed injury from what could have been a natural catastrophe of epic proportions.
A sudden pounding on the door drew our attention to Bartholomew, the posted guard with all of our thoughts racing to, “Could this be it? Have they found us?” The door swung open with the force of a legion to reveal only the women, my mother and the other Mary’s in frenzied hysteria. Mary Magdalene spoke out, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we do don’t know where they have put him!” (John 20:2)
Before we could respond, Peter and John flew down the steps at full sprint speed heading for the garden tomb, no holes barred, unaware of the paranoia that had paralyzed all of us for the past 36 hours. Mary and the others ran after them giving directions to the tomb.
According to my brother, he outran Peter and beat him to the tomb.
He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb, He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally, the other disciple*, (*foot note: my brother John) who reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.
What they believed at that point was not clear to any of us. They obviously believed he was not there but the thought of resurrection from the dead was beyond our reach.
Peter and John returned home to us waiting behind closed doors for their report. We listened in utter disbelief at this new twist in this ever changing plot. Who could have taken him and why? We knew we had all been together except for my excursion yesterday to “living hell” and we knew none of us would have been able to take on the Roman guards who had been posted at the tomb to ward off grave robbers.
What was up with this disappearance of his body and the grave clothes neatly folded at the place where his head had laid?
As we deliberated on all the possible scenarios like rabbits running the trails of the Judean hills, suddenly, Mary Magdalene ran up the stairs out of breath followed by the other women in unison shouting, “I have seen the Lord!” “He’s alive! Men in white robes! He’s not here; He has risen as he said he would! ”Our first thoughts were has the stress and exhaustion of these last days brought them together in a breakdown of group insanity? Some delirium producing hallucinations?
Then Mary told us, after Peter and John left, she sat down in front of the tomb and was crying.
As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there but she did not realize it was Jesus.
“Woman,” he said, “why are you crying?” “Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out (in Aramaic) “Rabboni!” (which is translated Teacher).
Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not returned to the Father, Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” (John 20:11-17)
We simply did not believe them. Their words seemed to us like utter nonsense. I’m ashamed to say it; as much as any of us would have wanted it to be true it was just more than any of us could take in. The story just kept getting more bizarre with every turn in the road. How slow we were to catch on.
At that point, we all headed out in different directions agreeing that most of us would be back tonight for a head count just to make sure we were all, alright. I had no idea where I was headed or what I would do next, I needed some time alone so I headed out towards Bethany, to the Mount of Olives.
I spent most of the day retracing my footsteps of that last night He was with me. Through the vineyard where he spoke of being “The Vine” and us as the “branches”, I wandered and pondered his words spoken as life to my soul.
I grazed through the harvested vines looking for a few left over grapes and found a whole cluster under some spreading leaves that had been missed. I made a meal out of them along with some olives found near the press ripe enough to eat.
I climbed up to the spot where we often went with him in the evening when he liked to watch the sunset descend over Jerusalem.
I sat right where we had met so often laughing, talking, listening, enjoying every moment in His presence. It seemed so long ago, so distant from my present reality marked by aloneness, confusion and overwhelming grief.
How could I allow myself to even consider anything the women had said to be true? That’s all I needed, more unbearable disappointment. No, I was safer with my rigid reasonable doubts. It was like they wanted it to be true, that they dreamed it all as if it had really happened.
I had heard of great magicians who could mesmerize an entire audience into believing one thing and then another. In fact, I had witnessed it first hand at that mockery of a trial when the Chief Priests, Teachers, and Elders whipped the crowd up into a frenzy screaming for his blood, “Crucify him, Crucify him, Crucify him” like a chant at the Roman games when they put the warriors to death at the drop of a hat.
The same people I saw just one week ago cheering Him with “Hosanna! Save us!” and welcoming him to Jerusalem as their Messiah. How quickly the tide turns in public opinion when the odds are against you and unfavorable ratings occur among the elite, the appointed “shepherd’s of the flock.” After all sheep always need a shepherd, right?
Our small band had once again scattered like sheep without a shepherd to who knows where. I laid back and stared at the wisps of clouds scampering by in an endless parade, row after row blowing in from the great sea passing over arid places before distilling there bounty on the fertile hills of Judea.
Like powerless sheep herded to who knows where by an unseen shepherd, they passed in endless monotony until I fell asleep under the tree where I had waited that night for Jesus, while he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane.
I awoke to the sight of the descending sun as it cast a tropical hue of colors against the distant clouds. A brilliant red with tints of pink and deep purple swirled together like the painter’s pallet created a collage of radiated streaks across the sky as if emanating from the sun itself. A Colossal display of beauty in abundance as if to remind me that all was not lost.
Some new found spark of life exuded from my heart like the warmth of the now descending sun in preparation for a new day to follow after the darkness. A soft warm breeze was blowing like a gentle whisper of hope for future glory when all is made right with man and God and all accounts are finally settled in that great day of accountability we all must face.
Something was changed in me that I found no words to neither explain nor describe.
Hope blossomed in the midst of a desert of despair.
It felt like putting on a familiar yet all new wardrobe tailored to your style, taste and exact measurements.
My heart rose like the great expanse before me in seeming ever increasing measure yet I found no reason, no answer, no explanation to satisfy my mind but Oh my heart was feeling fullness again, like when I saw him looking into my eyes and affirming me as only He could do, validating all I ever wanted to be as a man, his friend, his companion,
challenging me to be all he had created me to be, to fulfill my purpose and destiny planned before time began, my unique God given, designed purpose.
With new life and energy I jumped to my feet and began running, running like the wind with new joy, new hope, and new life from somewhere. I didn’t know what was happening to me and frankly didn’t care.
I had to tell someone, anyone who might listen and understand me. I could only think of making it back to the gathering room where my brother and friends who were more like family to me than my own family, would be waiting to see if I was alright.
I could not wait to see them and to discover together what this was that I was experiencing. Surely they must be experiencing this uncontainable joyous ecstasy of a heavenly source beyond measure or comprehension.
As I reached the stairs there at the top waiting just for me was my brother, John with a look of radiance on his face like I had never seen before. His beaming smile lifted me right up the stairs into a waiting bear hug of a greeting.
As we embraced he said “Peter has seen him, alive, today! We quickly joined the rest of the group who were somewhere in between disbelief and unshakable faith.
Stories were flying around the room of others who had seen Him alive, today.
Another one, Cleopas and another guy had met him on their way to Emmaus and he had broken bread with them and then disappeared just this evening.
We were all gathered now in various degrees of hope, fear, skepticism, and optimism yet all wanting to believe this incredible Good News!
While they were still talking about this, Jesus Himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I Myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.
He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you. Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is written; The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
As you may have heard and read, Jesus made many appearances to many people before he was taken up in glory before our eyes to heaven. He appeared a week after we first saw him when we gathered again together, this time even Thomas saw with his own eyes compelled to touch his wounds, bowing before him as his Risen Lord.
Later he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still alive today at the time of this writing.
Some, who read this journal, may not know that he also appeared to me once when I was alone. I would like to share that experience with you and perhaps one day I shall. Until then you can use your own imagination to aid you in experiencing what it was like to be in His Presence, my Living Lord Jesus Christ, Lamb of God, King of all Kings and Lord of all Lords. To Him be the glory!
One of my favorite hymns sung in our gatherings these days says it best;
“Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death…even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5-11)
Until we are all together in perpetual days of endless light and joy, may the light of His glory shine on you and may you know Peace.
Your brother in Christ,
James, a disciple of Jesus
All scripture quotations were taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version.
All text contained herein (with the exception of scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version) is owned by and is copyright © 2003 James C. Palmer. None of the contents may be reproduced or republished except by written permission.