It is daybreak here in Jerusalem, the sun is just about rising, but the streets are already jammed with multitudes of people; young and old, rich and poor, men and women.
They seem to be feeling the chilly wind for some very important message. Some have formed small groups and whispering news to one another. Some are still rubbing their eyes and yawning, as if they did not get enough sleep the previous night. Whatever makes this day different probably started last night, making the people sleepy this morning. The ominous currents of the atmosphere would alert every stranger in Jerusalem today of something strange.
A slender tall old man leans over his stuff and probes a stuffy short man who seems to be answering everybody’s questions: “Have the Sanhedrin reached a decision about that man?” But this time, he squints and shrugs. He has to fight for space.
“There they come!” A little boy runs from nowhere and shouts, making everybody turn suddenly towards the north of the street. The scene is telling. A tall hard-faced soldier roped in colors of red and black with a metal mask and a long whip is astride a fast-running horse. He is on his way to Skull Hill.
Everybody is drawing closer to the street and staring expectantly towards the north. Whatever it is that they are waiting for might show up any moment from now. There is dust in the sky. The clouds above are beginning to swirl in irregular patterns as the sun struggles to penetrate through with its rays. This day, at first seemed to be like any other, but it is not. It is not just different from all the days past, but would be different from all the days to come.
U-huh! There they come – a huge frenzy crowd thronging behind a young man in his thirties. There is so much dust in the air. It’s hard to recognize the young man. The crowd seems not to care about the thumping and bat-striking they are receiving from the soldiers. In fact, the soldiers are having a harder time keeping the crowd away than the crowd has, closing in on them. Oh, it’s not actually because of the dust that the young man is unrecognizable. He seems to have been disfigured through hard beating. His face is swollen and bloody. His breath is groggy and growly like the snarl of a dying dog. He is tired and weak under his feet. His garment is tattered from top to bottom, frayed and torn into hanging pieces from the cutting whips he’s enduring.
“Ooow! He has fallen”, screams a near-teary startled bystander. A shaky sad-faced woman draws nearer and offers the fallen man water in a gouged wooden jar. He’s too weak to lift his hands and drink so she gently lifts the jar against his lips as he tenderly quaffs the content of it. The commander of the soldiers spins around and sharply points to the direction of the man who screamed “he has fallen”. “You! Come here!” he blurts. The frightened man hastingly topples over to the commander as he orders, “Carry his cross!” He briskly digs down and lifts the wood-work off the fallen man and together everybody moves along.
They are now outside the city at a place called Skull Hill. The crowd is now so loud, cheering and laughing. They are about to witness the execution of three convicted outlaws. Today’s is particularly a lot. The men have been tied against their crosses and the executioner has just begun his work. There is loud screaming and wailing from the convicts as the nails pierce through their palms and feet into the wood. The man on the middle cross cannot wail anymore. He opens his mouth. But no sound. He’s too exhausted and can hardly breathe. He might die any moment from now. The crowd certainly wants to see who dies first. They cheer louder and louder as soldiers lift up the crucified men with their crosses and plant them into the ground. Now they can see them well, they can watch the agony on their faces, they can hear the groans and moans of their voices, they can know who gives up first. It is the third hour in the morning.
It looks like the crucified men are talking to one another, but they can barely be heard. The man in the middle is hardly speaking, though. He is suffering. A lot. He twists and twitches on his cross and whimpers out some words. The crowd is silent. They want to hear him.
A child grips his father’s hand and asks, “Did he say ‘father forgive them, for they know not what they do?’” “Son I can’t believe, but it sounded like it,” The father responded.
It is the sixth hour of the day and the crowd is still waiting. The sun is gradually being swallowed and the day slowly giving way to an ominous darkness. This is uncharacteristic of spring in Jerusalem. The man in the middle twists and twitches again, he’s about to say something. The crowd is silent. A cold wind blows through the crowd, down from the hill top. The wind helps the crowd to hear his words, “Into thy hands, I commend my spirit”.
The sun, slowly, calmly, dimly, going, going, gone. Darkness! Yes, just past the middle of the day. It is the kind of darkness that renders completely useless, the sense of sight. It is scary and makes you want to reach out and touch somebody. It is the kind of darkness that discourages movement, because nothing anywhere is visible. It is a global darkness. There is a rumbling sound like an earthquake from the distant land. There is rumbling of stones against each other in the distant grave yard. Stones over tombs roll away. The dead may flee away. Into the sky. There is thunderous cacophony in the city as people run against one another and to all directions. News is that the temple cloth separating the holiest of holies from the holy severs from top to bottom. The man in the middle breathes his last and drops… his head. Silence. Silence.
It is the ninth hour of the day. A warm wind gently blows through the crowd and gives hope of a new day. The darkness slowly drifts away as the sun’s rays gradually hatch their way through the dissolving thick dark clouds. Daylight comes.
Again. The crowd breathes sighs with people turning and looking at one another in surprised gazes. Mothers are looking around for their young. Friends are holding on tight.
The centurion standing guard by the crosses turns to his compatriots who are still fear-stricken, “This man, truly, was the Son of God,” he confesses.