For three long hours a darkness that could be felt pressed down on the land. Those who came only to see what they could see left those who came to love and those whose duty it was to look. The hillside was still as death. From a dying man, the necrotic darkness was ripped in two by a sob, “My God! My God! Why hast thou forsaken me”
Shock of sound passed, galvanizing some to speculation, others to memory.
Memory of a song called, “The Hart of the Morning.”
Appropriate for a man who had been hunted by human dogs before he could run.
His mother Mary remembered. She had all these things hidden in her heart.
“Why art Thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? 0 my God, I cry in the daytime, but Thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.”
The tumultuous time before the nativity: the private wedding; the sidelong looks; the shared joy with Elizabeth; the move to Bethlehem; the stable...
The shared joy with Elizabeth. “But Thou art holy, 0 Thou that inhabitest the praise of Israel. Our fathers trusted in Thee: they trusted, and Thou didst deliver them. They cried unto Thee, and were delivered: they trusted in Thee, and were not confounded.” She remembered how clear it all seemed then: “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior. For He hath regarded the low estate of His handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.”
“But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men and despised of the people.” Lifting her head from her tear stained hands, Mary Magdalene fixed eyes of love on the one who bore reproach on her account, reproach she justly deserved. “A friend of sinners!” they jeered. “If He knew what kind of woman she is . . .”
He knew. And she knew what kind of man He was.
“All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, ‘He trusted on the Lord that He would deliver him: let Him deliver him, seeing he delighted in Him”
The thief drew in a quick, painful breath. The scorn he had cast in the teeth of this man, who had not defended Himself, but begged God’s mercy on His murderers and maligners, cut him to the heart. The things of God which he had been taught as a child flooded his mind. “But Thou art He that took me out of the womb: Thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts. I was cast upon Thee from the womb: Thou art my God from my mother’s belly. Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help.”
Help was here, hanging on a cross. “Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.”
“Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round.”
The Syrian conscript’s ears perked up as he listened to the mother of the man on the cross. The Jewish folk song she was singing mentioned his home!
“I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. . .” The thud of the dropping cross reverberated in his ears. “My heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and Thou hast brought me into the dust of death.” With a glance at the dying man, the centurion sent a boy for vinegar, a sponge, and a stick. “For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me; they pierced my hands and my feet. I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me.” For the first time, the centurion recognized the condition of the crucified. He stared at this one who could endure such agony, and yet curse no one, least of all the Gentile dogs who spiked Him to the pole. “They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.” The centurion dropped the robe draped over his arm. Prophecy fulfilled! This was the King of the Jews;
“Truly this was the Son of God!”
“But be not far from me, 0 Lord: 0 my strength, haste Thee to help me. Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog. Save me from the lion’s mouth: for Thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.”
The disciple whom Jesus loved stood between his mother and the mother of his Lord. He stood among his kinsfolk, but his heart hung torn and broken on a cross above. The roar of own rending sobs was stilled by a loving labored voice. The dying Son of Man was giving His last bequest. “Woman,” He spoke breathlessly but tenderly to His mother, “Behold your son.” To John, gasping but firm, “Behold your mother.” John looked at the weeping mother of our Lord and saw that the destroyed devoted heart he had given to Jesus was wholly healed in the hands of His mother. “I will declare Thy name unto my brethren; in the midst of the congregation will I praise Thee.”
“Ye that fear the Lord, praise Him; all the seed of Jacob, glorify Him; and fear Him, all ye seed of Israel. For He hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath He hid His face from Him; but when he cried unto Him, He heard.”
Nicodemus’ mind recalled the fear he had regarding his Messiah: the midnight foray to the Rabbi, his timid confession of faith to his friend Joseph, his affliction at his failure to confront the folly of the Sanhedrin, his refraint from consent to Christ’s death but retreat from glory of God’s Son. But he cried unto the Savior; the Savior beheld him; he was accepted in the Beloved; he was born from above.
“My praise shall be of Thee in the great congregation: I will pay my vows before them that fear Him. The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the Lord that seek Him: Your heart shall live forever.”
At Nicodemus’ side, Joseph of Arimithea considered what he must do. He had made a vow, and he would not go back. He paced the way to Pilate’s palace to seek his Lord’s body. He and Nicodemus would prepare it and place it in a tomb Joseph had planned for himself. He would never need it. His rich businesses would be sold and his goods distributed. His meat would be to do the will of Him Who sent him. His body would die on foreign soil, but his heart would live forever.
“All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord, and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before Thee. For the kingdom is the Lord’s: and He is Governor among the nations.”
A young rabbi looked dispassionately at the dying man. New to the Sanhedrin, he was already considered a “Pharisee of the Pharisees.” Zealous for the Law, he applied the next phrase of the long-past memorized psalm to the blasphemer hung on the tree: “All they that be fat upon the earth shall eat and worship: all they that go down to the dust shall bow before Him: and none can keep alive his own soul.” He did not yet know that he soon would be committed to the resurrected Son of God against the day of judgment; and that he would see himself as a dead man, the chief of sinners, unable to keep alive his own soul; and that he, Saul of Tarsus, would be used by God to finish the song: “A seed shall serve Him; it shall be ac counted to the Lord for a generation. They shall come, and shall declare His righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that He hath done this.”
written by Kenneth A 0’Shaughnessy, 1996