[The picture is from His Place Ministries in Melbourne, FL. As I went through this homeless shelter on the Ecumenical Good Friday Walk, it seemed to me that having to seek shelter here was like being outcast, abandoned and in a tomb—a fit image for Holy Saturday.]
It is morning. My head is groggy. The last few days have been a blur.
Last Sunday was so spectacular. Jesus mocked imperial Rome by riding into Jerusalem on the colt of an ass—not a war horse but a lowly donkey. I should have known that this was the final straw. When he ran the money changers out of the Temple, we cheered but the Romans and their High priest collaborators were furious. We thought things would cool down after Jesus raised his friend, Lazarus, from the dead. Fleeing to sanctuary in Ephraim seemed to have served its purpose.
We returned to Jerusalem to the cheers of the crowds that had followed Jesus. They knew he had come to set them free and to alleviate their oppression. He was giving sight to the blind and healing lepers. Most members of the crowd had lost their land and livelihood to the wealthy few. They were often hungry but Jesus fed them the bread of sharing on many occasions. He ate with tax collectors, lepers, prostitutes and other sinners. He loved the people and they loved him. He was a beacon of hope in an occupied land.
Jesus often ate with us. He love to attend meals and celebrations. I remember when he bailed out the young married couple in Cana by providing more choice wines. The supper in the upper room on Thursday night promised to be yet another meal shared with Jesus. Soon after we reclined at table it was obvious that this was not just any meal. Jesus was somber.
We had ignored his talk about the Son of Man going up to Jerusalem to be handed over to the Romans and High Priest. They would not dare mess with him. Or, so we hoped.
Little did we understand the implications when Jesus took the bread and told us that we would now be his body. We did not get it when he took the cup and told us that we would now be his blood. His mother, Mary, his brothers and sisters, and the other Marys and women followers looked distraught. Us guys just were not grasping the obvious. What was happening? Where was Judas going?
We followed when Jesus told us he needed to go out to the garden to pray. He was so faithful about placing himself in Abba God’s presence. After the hardy meal of lamb and some choice wine, we were sleepy and gave into the urge to get a cat nap while he went aside and prayed.
He awoke us and chided us gently for our slumber. “Could you not have stayed awake and prayed with me in my hour of trouble?” But it was too late. We saw the torches and heard the clamor of the Romans and the Temple guard. Judas walked up to Jesus and hugged and kissed him. The guards grabbed Jesus and began to bind his hands. I could not let his happen. I grabbed my sword and swung wildly cutting off the ear of one of the guards. Jesus glared at me and said, “Put away your sword. I will not live by the sword of violence. I will not resist violence with violence.”
They led him away. John Mark had already escaped running naked through the dark of night. I ran until I could run no more. I was almost to Bethany. Friends of Martha, Mary and Lazarus would hide me. Then, I had second thoughts.
I had sold fish to the Romans when I was a successful fisherman. Maybe I could slip into the palace grounds and find out what was happening to Jesus. I no sooner got there than one of the maids recognized me. I was scared to death. I quickly told her, “I do not know the man.” They kept challenging me. After I had denied Jesus for the third time, I heard the cock crow. I then realized—dense as I was—what Jesus was telling me at the supper. I caught one glimpse of Jesus before I slipped away. He was bloodied from beatings and was being led to the High Priest.
I was hiding with Andrew and James. We are crying. We were wondering how we could rescue Jesus but knew it would be impossible. Early in the morning on Friday, Mary of Magdala found us. She said, “They are going to crucify him like a common criminal.” Our hearts sank. Mary said she would keep us informed.
Friday was a bleak, dark day. Ominous clouds hung in the sky. We hid like cowards while Jesus was being tortured by the Roman soldiers and the Temple guard. Late in the afternoon, Mary returned. She had been crying. She sobbed as she said, “They killed him.” He was in such agony. At one point, he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I was at his side as he gasped, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Anyone who has ever been brutalized by another person has a deep sense of unity with the passion and death of the betrayed, abandoned Jesus. How often have the brutalized cried the same lament?
We should not have been surprised. We had been at Jesus’ s side while he went about Galilee and then Judea challenging the debt codes and purity codes. He told us that human needs trumped the religious legalities of the Sabbath. He told us that his family were those who followed the will of God. He touched and healed lepers.
He spoke truth to per. He challenged greed, conquest, and the vicissitudes of empire. He told us to forgive our enemies and to pray for our persecutors. He told us to feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty. He told us to shelter the homeless and to care for the sick. He told us to visit the imprisoned and to welcome immigrants. He told us to proclaim a year of jubilee debt relief. He told us we would be held accountable for how we have treated the least among us. He told us that we must be willing to serve others if we want to be leaders.
He walked the talk even in the hour of his agony. Mary said that one of his last statements from the cross as, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they are doing.” He was betrayed by one of us. We abandoned him. He gasped his last breath as a common criminal suffocating on a wooden beam while we hid like the cowards we were.
It is over. It was a wonderful three years. We felt so blessed by his words and deeds. His presence was a candle in the wind for us. Now the flame has been snuffed. He lies dead—another victim of empire and religiosity run amok.
It is time to try to get some sleep. We have along journey back to Galilee and our boats and nets.
I wish I could have shared a different outcome with you,