Jesus is taken down from the cross

Narrative

The Jewish leaders did not want the victims hanging there the next day, which was the Sabbath (and a very special Sabbath at that, because it was the Passover), so they asked Pilate to hasten their Duccio, the deposition deaths by ordering that their legs be broken.  Then their bodies could be taken down.  So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the two men crucified with Jesus.  But when they came to Jesus, they saw he was dead already, so they did not break his legs.  One of the soldiers, however, pierced his side with a spear, and blood and water flowed out.  This report is from an eyewitness giving an accurate account; it is presented so that you also can believe.  These things happened in fulfillment of the Scriptures that say, "Not one of his bones will be broken," and "They will look on him whom they pierced."

Afterward Joseph of Arimathea, who had been a secret follower of Jesus (because he feared the Jewish leaders), asked Pilate for permission to take Jesus' body down.  When Pilate gave him permission, he came and took the body away.

John 19:31-38


Participation

You fall to your knees.  Your soul is lost.  He was strong.  He was powerful.  This was the moment.  And now... he's dead.

The wind continues to blow, the clouds above you stir.  A raven flies by.  It seems like the world around you is caught up in the moment.  Birds are quiet.  The branches rustle and shake, in seeming misery.

Mary also falls, the women fall around her.  She collapses before the cross, arms outstretched, face in the dirt.  

You don't cry.  You barely breathe.  It feels like the breath has been Rubens, Descent from the Crossknocked out of you.  Turbulent thoughts stir, unable to find any rest.   Men and women behind you, some of the few who had stayed, begin leaving.  A few of them walk over and spit on the body of Jesus.  Mary and the women don't notice, in their grief they see nothing.  John watches, does nothing.  He looks completely disheartened.  Had they spit and kicked him, he likely would not have responded.

Not everyone leaves, only those who wanted this punishment.  About fifteen people are left on the hill, in addition to the Romans.  Women and some men are about twenty feet away, behind the soldiers, watching, crying, not knowing what to do.  They had dedicated years to this man, helping him with his basic needs, serving him in whatever way they could.  Now nothing.  There was nothing left.  All their hope, all your hope, is lost.  

What is there to do?  You had no doubt he was the one, no doubt whatsoever.  Here you are, kneeling in the dirt, the body of your teacher and master hanging in front of you.  Wrong.  You were wrong.  How could you be so wrong?!  Your soul told you he was the one.  It lied to you.  He didn't rescue himself. He's not going to rescue you.  All that hope, raised higher than you've ever known, has collapsed and gone.  You don't care what happens now. You are more lost than before you met Jesus, more confused.   He lied.  He lied to everyone.  Jesus said he would live, he would rule, he would save.  It is all over now, nothing of what he said is worth anything.  Your heart falls, feelings of intense anger fill your mind, anger at Jesus, at his followers... at yourself for being so gullible.   Never in your life have you felt so lost as now.  Never have you felt so totally alone.   

The disciple who had been standing with the tax collector leaves, joined by another man, a shorter man.  They seem to hurry off.  The Romans aren't in any hurry.  Both of the other men are still conscious and aware.  They will not die today, maybe not even tomorrow.  Jesus will be left until they clean up everything, left there, dead and exposed.

Your knees are sore, small rocks dig into your flesh.  So, you sit back, unable to rise, the grief and confusion too much.  Two small sparrows land in the shrubs near you, one chirps.  They bounce from plant to plant, onto the ground, all around, before flying away to a distant tree.  You watch them, bothered by their intrusion and their interruption of your mourning.

You sit there for at least an hour, your mind unable to grasp what has happened, unable to find any reason to stay and no reason to leave.  Your soul has paused, and your being is stalled.  No one else moves either.  The women are still on the ground. John sits next to them.  Their weeping has quieted, though you still can see the silent sobs with their shoulders moving as the emotions overcome.  A soldier comes up the path in a hurry, he walks over to the centurion who is standing nearby.  The centurion listens to the soldier's words, looks up, and walks over to the other officer.  He speaks for a moment, then follows the soldier back down the hill.  You watch the two of them walk briskly into the city.

It does not rain, the clouds are moving on to the east.  The storm does not finish its task.  You look up and see blue sky on the western horizon, over the hills and trees.  For some reason this is comforting.

Three rich men come up the path, looking stern and important.  They stand next to you for a moment, glaring at the cross, looking at the people who are left with disdain.  One whispers to another, points to the sun, now shining faintly behind wispy clouds.   They walk up to the Roman officer, who is seated next to his men. 

"The Sabbath is coming," one says.

The officer looks up at them.  "So," he replies, "What is that to me?"

"It is a great insult to leave these... criminals up hanging up on the Sabbath.  It is the Passover, and we will not stand for such an insult to God on this day.  You must take them down.  Now.  Before the sun sets."

The officer stands, not used to receiving orders.  You see him begin to argue, then catch himself.  He looks at the crosses, at the city, then at the sun, before again staring at the three religious leaders.

"Fine.  Less work for us later.  I will do as you request."  He emphasizes the last word, trying in vain to recover a measure of authority over the situation.

The three men glare at him, determining his truthfulness.

"You heard the men, let's get this over with," the officer yells to his soldiers.

"Sir, they're still alive," one replies.

"Break their legs, they'll die soon enough."

The three men decide they have fulfilled their responsibilities.  They turn and walk back to the city.

You walk over to the officer, feeling some boldness and responsibility.  This should end with respect, if nothing else.

"The one in the middle," you say, "he is dead."

"Then he won't mind having his legs broken will he," the officer snaps back.

One of the soldiers picks up the mallet that was used to hammer in the nails.  John and the women move back.  Everyone watches as the soldier pulls back the mallet and swings it with both hands.  

You hear the smash of the mallet against the leg, a smack against the flesh,  a loud crack and snap of the bone   The criminal, the one who was first crucified, screams, his body twists and turns.  The soldier swings the mallet again, hitting the second leg.  You hear the same awful sound, the same scream.  Then nothing, the man sinks, all his weight now on his nail fastened hands.  The bone in his left leg sticks out, blood pours down.

He gasps, squirms, unable now to breath, he falls off the little seat, his body contorting in an unnatural, terrible way,  The Romans watch, showing no emotion.  Everyone else, including you, look away.

"Now this one," the officer says, pointing at Jesus.

The soldier walks over, adjusts the mallet in his hands.

You watch the officer.  You can see the thoughts stirring in his head, he is considering something.  He yells, "Wait!  This one is dead.  Don't waste your effort."  

The soldier replies, "Are you sure?"

"I'm sure."  He gestures to another soldier, one with a spear, to check.

This soldier walks up, thrusts the spear into Jesus' side, blood pours out, though it is diluted and thin.  It spurts out when the spear is pulled away.

"He's dead," John says quietly.  "He is dead.

The officer agrees, then says, "Finish the last one."

Rembrandt, Descent from the Cross 1651The soldier with the mallet walks over to the last cross.  

The criminal watches him, the fear in his eyes overwhelming.  He screams, "No!  No!  Please, don't!"

The soldier does not listen.  You close your eyes, try to close your ears.  The terrible sounds of before repeat.  You hear the weeping of the man, then he chokes.  A gurgling sound is followed by silence.  You open your eyes again, looking away from the crosses, towards the hills to the west.

"Take them down, throw them into the pit," the officer tells his men.

"Excuse me," a man behind you says.  You turn around.  Two very wealthy men are there.  One of them walks to the officer.  He points at Jesus, whispers a few words.  You see him pull a scroll out, unroll it, then slip it into the hands of the officer.  The officer looks down at it, reads it.  There is no change in expression.  He looks up and nods at the rich man.

"Do as these men ask," he orders his soldiers.

You notice a servant come up, leading a donkey laden with all sorts of bags and cloth.  Burial preparation.

One of the soldiers grabs the mallet off the ground, hammers the back of the spikes which are through Jesus' ankles, pounding them out as far as possible.  Another holds some kind of metal tool, which fastens around the spike, and gives a grip to pull it out.  Both ankles are freed, the spikes are pulled out from the flesh.  Jesus hangs from his arms. 

The soldiers climb up a small ladder, lift off the heavy cross piece, and lower it to the ground.  Jesus' dead body twists as the beam comes down.  The rich men watch this, and the soldiers seem to show more care now, almost being concerned with this body. 

They lower him down, you run up to help, not caring about the blood.  They pull the nails out of the hands, and carry the beam off to the side.  You take hold of the body, still a little warm, though showing the clear signs of death.  The body is lighter than you expected, the flesh feels clammy.  You lay him down on the ground and step back.  Mary crawls over, lifts up the dead shoulders, and for a moment caresses Jesus' head in her lap.  Everyone waits.

You stand back, noticing now the blood on your clothes.  His blood, shed for you.   

A light breeze blows, the sun shines in your eyes.  You stare at the ground.  "For you," he had said. "I do this for you."


Consideration

Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God.  Bellini, LamentationHe made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form.  And in human form he obediently humbled himself even further by dying a criminal's death on a cross.  Because of this, God raised him up to the heights of heaven and gave him a name that is above every other name so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:6-11


Prayer

"Oh Father, most sorrowful when you did see your only son lying lifeless, taken from the instrument of his cruel death.  Help me feel a hatred of sin because sin killed your son and wounded your own heart.  Give me grace to live life as you desire and save my soul."