21. Death Comes in Darkness

       The eclipse of the sun had begun the moment that Jesus had been nailed to the cross, but it was only now that the people began to notice the shadows that crept into the caves and workings of the rock quarry giving it a menacing skull-like look.

Looking around and up in consternation, the people watched as the sun hid it’s face from the earth in rejection and shame.  Rejection of the king of self crucified before the Majesty, the Creator of all things.  Shame for the kings of self who would crucify the Son of the Living God with mockery and contempt.  The darkness was a fitting context for this most infamous of acts, this most royal of deeds.

From the sixth to the ninth hour darkness came over the whole land.  Even those unaware of the events happening on a hill outside of Yerushalayim, felt a superstitious dread at the unnatural event and wondered what it meant. 

         Gabriel watched in awe as that great heavenly body veiled its glory while the Son of the Living God spent his last hours on the cross in darkness.  Gabriel knew the truth of what the Psalmist had written.  “The heavens declare the glory of God.”  But this was a proclamation most bold.  Both at his birth and now at his death, the heavens could not keep silent but proclaimed to the whole earth that this life was not a common one but rather an extraordinary one.

         Gabriel marveled at the Majesty who, in the very creation of the Universe, had set in motion the great bodies which would come together in this way, at this time, for this reason. 

How great and marvelous are your deeds, O Lord.  There was a Sovereignty, a Majesty, a Glory of His Father that was far beyond even the mind of Gabriel as he contemplated the intricacies of bringing such momentous events together in the Heavens while respecting and working with the choices that each human actor made in the development of this Passion Drama.

Glory to God in the Highest!  Gabriel remembered the song of praise from the birth of Jesus and it rang in his heart again while he struggled to keep himself veiled from the demons that now surrounded him on every side, thick as ants on an anthill.

He had moved closer in anticipation of the Divine Sting and was now hiding near the foot of the cross itself, together with Michael, beneath the earth, in the heart of the skull.  It was the blood that broke him, each drop falling into the dust of the earth, resounding throughout eternity, a constant reminder of the reality of sin and the price that had to be paid. 

He could no longer contain himself and his tears also began to fall, until great wracking sobs of grief, quiet and intense, possessed them both.  Michael was on both knees, his hands covering his face, trying to contain his grief to keep from being discovered.  Gabriel knelt on one knee, one arm around Michael´s shoulders as he looked up and watched, through tear stained eyes, the blood of the Savior purifying the creation that was his.  Gabriel took a deep breath.

It was almost time.

 

 

*****

         The demons were quiet.  It was an eerie, unusual quiet that came upon them as the sun hid its face and all their mockery died upon their lips.  The weaker ones trembled visibly with fear, wondering if the wrath of God was now to be poured out on them for what they had done.  Many looked to Tundrac for answers but he ignored them, trembling himself, but not visibly.

Suddenly Lucifer was there.  He had decided to forget ritual and pretense and just get the job done.  He was profoundly uneasy and was not sure how to interpret this unexpected event.

         Quickly but quietly, the ranks of demons opened before him to allow him direct access to the cross and Lucifer came near, his trembling not one of fear but of barely controlled lust as he watched his ancient enemy suffering on the cross.  He looked closely at Jesus, peering at him from all sides, wondering if he was aware of him and what he, Satan, was doing to him.

But no, Jesus was either unaware or ignoring him completely.  He shook with anger at the second thought but quickly clamped down on his straying emotions.

He needed to concentrate.  What was going on?  Why was his instinct, now struggling to pierce through the strength of his lust for revenge, telling him to stop, to turn back, to leave, to get out while he could?  He shook his head.  It was too late for that.  He had to figure out what was going on.

         And then he knew.  This darkness reminded him of that great battle on the banks of the Nile in Egypt those many years ago.  The darkness had fallen then as well and he had been summoned to act on God’s behalf and so had defeated himself with one blow.  It had been terrible and it had been wonderful.  God had recognized and accepted his authority over death.  He had been summoned.  He had created this death, though God called it a curse.  He had the keys to death and hell in his own hands.

But what did that have to do with the cross?  Events were slipping out of his control.  He tried to concentrate on the problem at hand.  Why did this darkness make him feel uneasy?

         This darkness was different and yet the same.  He had been used back then and he felt used now.  Yes, that was it.  He was being used!  But how?  Why?

In helpless rage, he stormed toward the cross, growing in stature so that his demonic, bloodshot eyes could look directly into the eyes of Jesus, glaring his hatred and contempt.  But Jesus was in a world of agony and pain that Lucifer had nothing to do with.

It surprised him, really.  It was as if all of this physical pain, this torture, this mockery, this condemnation was only a preparation for these final hours of deep, silent, intimate suffering.  What did it all mean?

         Certainly the pain of the cross was intense, and Jesus was getting a good taste of it.  His breathing was shallow, a sort of panting, gasping for breath that never seemed to be enough.  Once every few minutes, he would heave suddenly upward in an instinctive struggle for a deeper gulp of life-giving air.  He was conscious, he was aware of the pain but there was a greater anguish of soul that Lucifer, as yet, did not understand.  He recognized it faintly but the memory only teased at the edge of his consciousness.  He frowned in thought but could not understand his uneasiness.

         There was nothing to do but wait.

And so they waited, quietly and with bated breath, while Jesus sunk lower and lower into the arms of death.  Lucifer wanted nothing more than to have it over with, to finally see that look of fear on Jesus’ face when he realized that his soul was now in the hands of his arch-enemy.  Three days in Hell was an eternity in the hands of Lucifer.  He knew what could be done.  He knew what would be done.   He gloated over every detail and spent his time drooling over his expected feast.  He could afford to wait.

And the quiet moments dragged into silent hours as the whole world waited for the Son of God to die.

 

 

*****

         Gabriel was also waiting and at his side was Michael, his young brother.  Although they were both mighty in battle, Gabriel was known as the messenger of God and Michael as the warrior of God.  He was the guardian angel of  the nation of Isra´el.  His job would soon change.

Their presence here at this time was as much symbolic as it was necessary.  They did not expect to have to fight.  In fact, the battle did not belong to them at all.  But they were invited to be part of the greatest event in history and bring to a conclusion the Divine Sting.  Besides, there was no accounting for how the demons would react. 

It was almost time.

 

 

*****

         It took them by surprise after the hours of silence. Jesus finally spoke but they misunderstood him completely.  Although that was nothing new.

“Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?”  Jesus cried out in a loud voice.  My God, my God, why have you deserted me? 

When the soldiers and some of the others standing there heard him they thought he was calling to Elijah for help and began to mock him again.  Obviously they did not understand  Jesus’ native tongue.

The centurion quickly ran to get a sponge, which he dipped in vinegar and putting it on a reed, was about to give it to him to drink.  It was commonly thought that giving the condemned man vinegar would quench his raging thirst but also speed him on towards death.  It was supposed to be an act of kindness.

But the others said, “Wait! Let’s see if Elijah will come to save him first.”

Reluctantly the centurion stood there for a moment uncertain of what to do.  The darkness had filled them all with dread and they had been talking about this man, wondering if all the rumors were true but only half-believing this Jewish nonsense.  The centurion was not so sure he could dismiss it as easily as the others.

 

 

*****

         Lucifer was confused.  It was as if Jesus was giving the world clues, but he still couldn’t put all the pieces together.    My God, My God, why have you deserted me?  It was not a question really, it was a statement.

Concentrate.  Concentrate!  he berated himself.  He was running out of time and he wanted to know what was really going on.

      My God, My God, why have you deserted me?  Jesus had surprised him with the strength of that loud cry.  He would not have believed that he had such strength in him still.  As if this cry came from the deepest anguish of his heart. 

Yes, that was it!!  That was the missing link!!  This anguished cry of Jesus had reminded him of that night in Gethsemane, and of his anguish there.   The two were the same.  What did it mean? 

Lucifer struggled within himself to understand the import of these words while his demonic army shifted and moved and fluttered uneasily behind him, unsure of anything and ready to bolt for cover at the first sign of trouble.

 

 

*****

         It was his pride that forbade him the answer to his questions, Gabriel knew.  Lucifer had determined in his heart that God had contracted with him for the death of His Son in exchange for the fledgling church of Jewish disciples.  He was, no doubt, honored by the recognition of his power and he would exult in the fact that God had to deal with him, that his power and authority in the hearts of men was able to prevent God from fulfilling his deepest purpose for His creation.

Already in the far regions of the earth, among people who had never heard of the God of Isra´el, Lucifer was promoting and teaching his lies.Good versus Evil.  Two sides of the same coin.  One as necessary as the other.  Evil as integral and necessary to life as Good.  It was a proud and haughty lie that Lucifer truly believed.  But it was a lie nevertheless.

      How could he know?  thought Gabriel.  How could he understand that his authority and power was due to the love of God for his creation and for his people?  God would not give them up.  He would not abandon them to death or to destruction even though both were necessary for a time.   Judgment would not be his final word but rather grace.

Lucifer was nothing more than a pawn, a necessary pawn for a while, but a pawn nonetheless.  He had corrupted mankind and introduced death, but death was under the power and control of the Majesty always and at every moment.  Lucifer would indeed be defeated but in a way that he did not expect.

         His power and authority was rooted in God’s love for his people and in His character.  God could not diminish His Justice while He extended His Love and so He had to respect the Unholy Alliance between man and the serpent, even as He worked to undermine it and keep it in check.  The surprise was that God did not simply destroy both the Devil and mankind and start over.  But that is not his way. 

Lucifer’s authority and power did not belong to him as something he created but as something delegated to him from the character and love of God for His people.

Lucifer felt safe in his authority because he knew the unchanging character of God.  His boldness came from his knowledge that not even God, Himself, could forgive sin and rebellion without violating his Holiness.

         How could he know?  thought Gabriel, that there was one thing God valued above all of creation, one thing He loved beyond all others, that could satisfy His Holiness.  His Son.  Love must give what it cherishes, it must sacrifice what it values most so that others, too, can experience the love, be transformed by the love.  The circle of love must grow, and always it grows through giving and sacrifice. 

And so, He was willing to take on the likeness of sinful flesh and die on the cross as the representative of the kings of self, nailing sin, itself, and all of the curses of the law upon that cross.  Because love would let him do no other. 

It was not just that He loved mankind, though He did, but it was love, itself, rooted deeply in His character, in the relationship of God with Himself, that compelled Him.

         Because his value to his Father was so much greater than all of creation and all of mankind; because the Father loved the Son so deeply, he was the perfect substitute, the only substitute and the Justice of God was more than completely fulfilled by his experience of hell and death.  He did not need an eternity to experience the excruciating agony of God’s wrath.  Three days endured by the perfect Son of God was more than equal to eons endured by the guilty.

Because his love for his Father was so far beyond anything that mankind had ever known, his experience of Hell was an eternity of pain and suffering in a few short hours.  The spiritual agony of the cross, in the absolute ledgers of God’s Justice, was more than enough of a substitute for every man, woman and child that walked the face of the earth.  It was the love of God that conceived of this bold plan and executed it with such ingenuity and care from cradle to cross.

Gabriel had always maintained that Lucifer would never believe it.  And he was right.  The problem was not between God and Lucifer.  The Majesty was making no payment to the Devil to buy back or redeem his people.  He had no contract with the Evil One.  It was not Lucifer that held the power of death in his hands, but God.  He was merely the tool for an unpleasant task.  The executioner.  The gatekeeper.  Despised but necessary for a time. 

The issue was not good versus evil but rather the justice and holiness of God versus His love for His people.  The problem and the solution lay with God.  The problem and the solution lay in the character of God, in His love and in His justice.  Because His love suspended judgment for a time, because His love searched for another way than final judgment and death, He had endured Lucifer, and evil and rebellion among his own people.  It was His love that was the problem as well as the solution. 

         Lucifer was simply not important.  His presence was tolerated for a time, his authority acknowledged for a time, but his importance was nothing to preoccupy the mind of God with.  This his pride would never accept.  That was the key to the Divine Sting.  For Lucifer was being used and his authority was being usurped.  His services were needed in pouring out the wrath of God upon His Son and those services had to be rendered freely and with great hellish delight to be truly representative of the wrath of God upon sin. 

Lucifer had done his job well, the lackey that he was.  But now his services would no longer be needed and he would be cast down.  Overthrown.  His authority revoked.  And the realization of how he had been used would send him into a fury the likes of which the world has never seen.

Gabriel smiled to himself as he waited impatiently for the final moment when Lucifer would realize that he had been taken, and taken fairly, trapped and defeated by his own lust and evil desire. 

 

 

*****

         Again Jesus spoke but the words were so innocent, so natural in the context of the cross that no one understood them at first.      

Jesus knew that everything had now been completed, and to fulfill the scripture perfectly he said:  “I am thirsty.”

Gabriel could see Lucifer towering above him, focused on his ancient enemy.  What seemed to bother him the most was the look in Jesus’ eye, for he had opened them as he spoke.  It was not the look that he had been waiting for.  It was not a look of defeat but rather of contentment and of victory as if the battle were over instead of just about to begin.   

       The centurion quickly responded by dipping the sponge again into the vinegar and lifting it up to Jesus to drink, a final kindness. 

         Gabriel knew that Jesus was in total control of the entire process from beginning to end.  He wanted to make it clear to the entire world, spiritual and otherwise, that he had drunk every drop of the cup of the wrath of God – even unto death. 

“I am thirsty.”  Jesus, as Sin in the flesh, and as a human, revealed his thirst.  The symbolism was clear.  In the drinking lay death.  The perverted spiritual thirst of the kings of self resulted in a hastening of death, a poisoning of the soul with the wrath of vinegar rather than the sweet wine of God’s favor.

It was not death that Jesus feared, as Lucifer thought.  It was not hell at the hands of demons, at the hands of the Devil that he abhorred.  No, it was the wrath of God, his Father that his soul could not bear.  But now Jesus knew that everything had been completed. 

         He had one more job to do.  He must die.

And a great and fierce joy welled up in him as he cried out once again in a loud voice, “Teletilesti”  It is accomplished.

 

 

*****

It was a battle cry, and Lucifer recognized the triumph in it immediately.  The hordes of demons quickly rose into the air like a flock of startled pigeons, half-expecting to be surrounded by legions and legions of the hosts of heaven.  But the heavens were silent.  Nothing happened.  And yet everything happened at once.

         Lucifer, his evil soul attuned to the spiritual vibrations all around him, heard the great ripping, tearing sound as if it were happening right behind him.  He spun around and his eyes telescoped immediately into the Temple, as if there were nothing else in all of creation that mattered.  And there he saw the great inner curtain which guarded the Most Holy Place torn right down the middle from the top to the bottom as if a great Divine hand was at work.

But what did it mean?  raged Lucifer roaring at the top of his voice, rising further into the air, his great, dark wings extended to their full length.  The Temple meant nothing!  The Presence of God had been gone from there for centuries already.  What did it mean?  But Lucifer knew that whatever it meant, it was not good. 

         And suddenly, the earth quaked and the rocks all around the quarry were split in two and the tombs opened and the bodies of many holy men were exposed.  Slowly they came awake, their stirring feeble at first but growing in strength.

“No, no,” demanded Lucifer in his rage.  “This is my territory!  This belongs to me!”  Lucifer turned his attention back to the cross confused, angry and, yes, scared.

“What is accomplished?”  he raged at Jesus without getting the slightest response.  “What? What?”  His screams seemed to make no difference except among his own demonic ranks, which had never seen the Evil One so distraught.  They were paralyzed with fear, as much because of  Lucifer as for what was happening.  Tundrac had wisely moved away into the background so that Lucifer could not take his anger out on him.

         Jesus spoke for the final time and the demons immediately became quiet to hear him.  Lucifer saw the moment of death coming but realized that he had very little to do with it.  Everything was out of control.  There was a knot in his bowels as he waited the final moments that still seemed to last forever.

Part of his mind could analyze what was happening to him as another part raged in impotent anger at the cross.  He could feel the deadly serpent of his temptation and desire uncoiling and raising it’s head to strike.  A sense of dread seemed to sweep over him.  He had a profound sense of doom, a feeling that he had been tricked, tempted and now judgment was coming.

He waited with bated breath for the final moment of death.  Then he would be in control once more.  It was his last chance.   Hurry.  Hurry!

         Although it was only seconds later, the moment came with agonizing slowness and Jesus spoke his last words upon the cross.

“Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit.”  With these words he breathed his last and bowing his head he gave up his spirit.

 

 

*****

         When the centurion saw what had taken place, as much as what had happened on the cross as the darkness and the earthquake, he gave praise to God and said, “This was a great and good man.”

And when all the people who had gathered for the spectacle saw what had happened, they went home beating their breasts.

But as the people filed past the cross, already thinking about their religious preparations for the Shabbat, the Centurion could not abide their hypocrisy and could not keep quiet.

“In truth this was a son of God,” he flung the accusation at the people.

Turning to his fellow soldiers, grim and quiet, he told them as well, the sincerity in his voice obvious, for he had seen how Jesus had died.

“In truth, this man was a son of God.”

“What do you want us to do about it,” one of them responded angrily.  They guiltily suspected that he was right.

“Forget it,” the centurion said, disgusted and a little embarrassed at his outburst.  It was time for him to report to Pilate that Jesus was dead.  Without another word he made his way down the hill and through the crowds on his way to the palace.

 

 

*****

      Lucifer kept his eyes on Jesus.  

      His agitation was obvious as he waited with mounting anticipation for his moment of revenge.   Without realizing it, he was growing in stature, his fear and excitement building in him a tower of strength and defiance.  In his evil soul he could feel the moment of death arrive. 

He unsheathed his great sword and raised it toward heaven with both hands and threw back his head to let loose a demonic scream. 

“This soul is mine!” 

With a swift, deliberate stroke, he brought his mighty sword down upon the head of Jesus penetrating his neck and shoulders to lodge the poisonous blade in the very center of his heart.

         To Lucifer it was a ritual of death like thousands of others but far more satisfying, as if all of the power and grief and pain of countless other deaths went into that killing stroke.  He could hardly contain his excitement as he anticipated his final moment of revenge when he would look into the eyes of his ancient enemy and gloat.  Pain and death were only the beginning. 

He looked down at Jesus trembling with lust, his dark feathers rustling and quivering with the shaking of his body.  He folded his wings around him, wrapping himself tightly, his sword forgotten in one hand, the tip dragging in the earth, a look of fierce expectation on his face.  He did not have to wait long. 

Jesus was dead and now he would feast upon his soul in hell.  But the look in Jesus’ eyes as he raised his spiritual head and looked straight at him was the most terrible thing that Lucifer had ever seen.

 

 

*****

         It was almost sundown and the Shabbat would begin soon.  There was still much to do and the chief priests and elders, who had watched for a while from the city walls, began leaving, losing interest in the drama of death.  They had to see to the final preparations for the Shabbat before darkness fell.

Others, chosen for the task, went to see Pilate.  The eerie twilight of the strange darkness filled them with an undefined dread that made them scurry along the streets like rats in a warren.

It was Preparation Day, and to prevent the bodies remaining on the cross during the Shabbat – since that Shabbat was a day of special solemnity, coming as it did close upon the Passover – the Jews asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken away.  There was only a few hours left before sundown and the law was clear.

Pilate wearily agreed.

     No sooner had they left when Pilate was asked for another audience.  But this time he was pleasantly surprised to find that this Jew was willing to come into his palace to meet with him.  It was unusual to say the least.

Joseph of Arimathaea, a leading rabbi of the Sanhedrin, was in his audience chamber waiting for him to grant permission to take down the body of Jesus and have it buried properly. 

Was he a secret disciple of this man? Pilate wondered.  And wasn’t this a family affair after all?  Still it was bold of him to declare himself so openly, even if it was a bit late.  Jesus could have used his support when he was alive.

         Then he suddenly realized that the rabbi was too early.  The other members of the Sanhedrin had just left with a messenger from Pilate to order the legs of Jesus broken so that he would die sooner, but it still would take some time before he was actually dead.  He could not give permission to have the bodies taken down until he had confirmed their deaths.

         What a scandal it would be if they took Jesus down from the cross before he had actually died.  What if he survived his wounds?  Some fortunate people had survived crucifixion in just that manner although it was by no means certain. 

He smiled to himself at the thought.  The Jews would have a fit but no, it was too late for that kind of desperate strategy.  He would tell Joseph to come back when he could confirm that Jesus was dead.

         The centurion who was in charge of the detail at the cross was just arriving and Pilate called to him for his report.

“Yes,” the centurion said, “he is most certainly dead.  I witnessed it myself.”

Pilate was surprised that he should have died so soon but having been assured of his death by the centurion, he granted the corpse to Joseph.  He ordered the centurion to accompany Joseph and take the corpse down from the cross and hand it over to him for burial.

 

 

*****

         Joseph was an upright and virtuous man.  He had not consented to what the others had planned and carried out, that was why he had not been asked.  They suspected his openness to Jesus and his message of hope.  But Joseph didn’t care.  He lived in the hope of seeing the kingdom of God and deeply regretted not being able to stop this travesty of justice from the beginning.  He may be late in declaring his position but he would not let the others desecrate Jesus’ body in death as they had desecrated him in life.  He would lay Jesus in his own tomb and give him a burial worthy of the man he had come to respect so much.

Joseph was thankful for the help of Nicodemus, although his friend was far more worried about what the others would say than he should be.  Still, they were running out of time.  It would be dark soon.  The Shabbat was almost upon them.

         While Joseph had gone to Pilate, Nicodemus had gone into the marketplace to  buy the things they would need as quickly as possible.  He bought a shroud for the body and strips of linen to wrap the head as well as a mixture of myrrh and aloes with which to prepare the body.  He would go directly to Joseph’s tomb in the rock quarry near Golgotha since there was very little time left.  They would meet there.

Joseph hurried through the streets with the centurion toward the killing ground, sick at heart with regret and sorrow, but wanting to finish his task before the Shabbat began at sundown.

         They arrived at the site of the cross just as the soldiers were about to hasten the deaths of the three criminals by breaking their legs.  When Joseph realized what they were about to do, he tried to stop them, not able to bear this further disgrace thrust upon his beloved Rabbi but the soldiers paid no attention to him whatsoever. He had no authority here and he could not convince the centurion to interfere with a direct order from Pilate although he was obviously sympathetic.

With a heavy mallet they came up to the first criminal who had so vilely mocked Christ as he hung upon the cross and quickly broke his legs, the snapping of the bone clearly heard above the weak moan of the man who was still barely alive.  Then they moved to the other and did the same.  They left Jesus until last. 

         But there was no need.  When they came to Jesus, they found he was already dead, and so instead of breaking his legs one of the soldiers pierced his side with a lance;  and immediately there came out blood and water.

“You can have him,” said the soldier harshly, “he’s dead.” 

Joseph watched as the soldiers took down the body exhorting them all the while with tears to be careful.

         Yochanan and the women had come up to the cross while the soldiers did their work.  They were too spent with their grief to worry any more about getting caught.   Besides, Mary had a right to be here.  It was her son. 

         Joseph could hardly turn to look at her, so filled with shame he was, but she made it easier and touched his arm in understanding. 

“Where will you put him?” she asked quietly.  It was really her responsibility and that of her other sons but she was thankful for Joseph’s help.  She knew they had little time left and with that one question had given Joseph permission to carry on.

“Come and see,” Joseph answered gently.  Jesus would get the best treatment that was possible under the circumstances. 

      When Jesus was finally lowered from the cross, Joseph and Yochanan laid out the shroud and wrapped him in it and placed him on a donkey brought for that purpose.  Slowly the procession wound its way down the hill into the rock quarry and nearby garden towards Joseph’s tomb.  The women followed behind, their eyes finally dry but their hearts still full of the pain of grief. 

         Nicodemus was already inside the tomb.  The opening was small but inside there was room enough for two or three people to work in preparing the body for burial.  Nicodemus had brought three of his personal servants with him and Joseph saw them standing idly outside of the tomb.  He wondered why they were there until he entered the tomb and found Nicodemus with almost one hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes, a heavy load even for the three servants.

Joseph smiled at his friend’s extravagance, knowing it was an indication of his esteem for this rabbi.  Nicodemus had been spreading the mixture onto the shroud and the strips of linen himself in preparation for the arrival of the body.  Time was of the essence.

         Joseph went outside and, together with Nicodemus, carried the body of Jesus into the tomb.  This was a task that they insisted on doing personally.  It was their final gift to this Rabbi from God. 

Mary of Magdala and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the sepulcher.  They had taken note of where Jesus was buried so that they could return and continue the proper burial customs after the Shabbat.  They did not realize that Nicodemus had already brought the needed spices for Jesus’ burial for they had not gone inside the tomb.  But then the spices they would bring on Sunday morning would be unnecessary anyway. 

Yochanan had already gone off to find Peter, in response to the Divine impulse in his heart.  They needed to be together, to talk, to plan what they would do, though Yochanan had no idea what was left to be done. 

It was over.

When Joseph and Nicodemus were done, they rolled a large stone across the entrance of the tomb and they all went away, the women with them, for the Shabbat had come upon them with the darkness.

 

 

*****

         Pilate was surprised.  The Preparation Day was over and Shabbat had begun at the sixth hour after midday but still he was summoned to meet with the chief priests and the Pharisees outside.  He was truly tired of this whole ordeal but he went.  He was beaten and they knew it.

They immediately got to the point.  “Your Excellency,” they began.

At least they were being polite, Pilate thought. They must want something from me.

“We recall that this impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I shall rise again.’

Pilate was amazed.  Were they serious?  Rise from the dead?  These people were crazy.  But Pilate heard them out.

“Therefore give the order to have the sepulcher kept secure until the third day, for fear his disciples come and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead.’ This last piece of fraud would be worse than what went before.”

         It was straightforward enough, but Pilate was learning to listen to these people on a more subtle level.  Why did they come to him?  Why not use their own Temple Guards?

Certainly there were advantages to having a Roman guard detail protect the tomb of Jesus.  No one plays games with crack Roman soldiers or with the seal of the Emperor, which would be placed on the tomb.  But, then again, who in his right mind uses Roman soldiers to guard a dead man already in his tomb.  It was a bit ridiculous.  Pilate mused for a moment. 

I wonder….

         He didn’t take these claims of resurrection any more seriously than they did, but perhaps he was being tested.  After all, the body of Jesus was taken down in great haste long before a criminal usually died on the cross.  Of course they were the ones in a hurry not him.  He cared nothing about the Shabbat. Yet they would still hold him responsible if something went wrong.   Pilate shuddered with futility at the thought.

But he had given the order to have Jesus taken down first and given to Joseph of Arimathaea, based on the centurion’s testimony that Jesus was already dead.  Perhaps there was some suspicion that he had acted too quickly, that Jesus had not yet died, that there was a plot afoot that he or his centurion was a part of.  No, it was too absurd.

But Pilate remembered his reluctance in sentencing Jesus to death.  It could be construed differently if Jesus’ body turned up missing.  Rome would not understand the complexities of the local situation.

Pilate sighed impatiently.  He was amazed at their paranoia about this rabbi but he would play their game one last time.  He would prove that he had nothing to do with these people and had no interest in their religious superstitions and squabbles.

         “You may have your guard,” said Pilate to them.  “Go and make all as secure as you know how.”

So they went and made the sepulcher secure, putting seals on the stone and mounting a guard.  It would be the most frightening assignment that these hardened soldiers would ever experience, facing as they would, the might of angelic warriors.  Neither the seal and guarantee of the Roman Empire nor the guard detail of crack, battle hardened Roman soldiers would be enough to stop the power of Heaven from performing it’s divine task.

 

 

*****

 


The Temptations of the Cross by Bert Amsing
Copyright 2012 by vanKregten Publishers. All rights reserved.
http://www.desertwarrior.net    https://desertwarriornet.wordpress.com/

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