April 10, 2009

Good Friday, April 10, John 19:38-42

We continue with our journey to Easter with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus at the foot of the cross.
(By Cynthia Davis)

Lazarus did not return until late the next evening. He was exhausted when he stumbled through the door.
“Brother,” Martha rushed to his side. “Where have you been?”
“What happened?” Mary solicitously removed his cloak and handed the man a bowl of water to wash his hands and face.
Absently he performed the traditional ablutions.
“It is over,” he groaned, sinking onto the nearby cushion. His head fell into his hands.
Mary gripped Martha’s hands tightly. The women stared at their brother. Neither could voice the question because they feared the answer.
In a monotone, Lazarus began his report. “Jacob and I reached the garden just as the Temple officers arrested Jesus. We followed them to Caiphas’ house. In a little while he was dragged to the governor and then even to Herod.”
The man looked up. A wry smile crossed his lips, “It seemed that no one wanted the responsibility for pronouncing sentence.”
His smile faded and Lazarus stared past his sisters when he resumed the saga. “When Jesus was brought back to Pilate, the governor offered the crowd a choice. They could free one prisoner in honor of the Passover. Even the power of Rome didn’t want to judge the Master. He offered the choice of Barabbas or Jesus.”
“Barabbas!” exclaimed Martha. “Wasn’t he the one found guilty of murder?”
“The same man,” nodded Lazarus.
Mary sniffed and wiped at the tears streaming down her face. “No one chose Jesus?”
“Some did, Sister, some did. But the crowd shouted them down. I think the priests had paid some people to shout for Jesus to be crucified.”
“Crucified!” Both women gasped the word in horror.
“That is for the worst criminals,” argued Martha.
“It was the final sentence,” sighed Lazarus.
For a long time there was no sound in the room. Mary and Martha both wept openly. Lazarus again lowered his head into his hands.
“He said nothing. Jesus said nothing in his defense. I could not understand it,” finally he spoke again. “They took him and whipped him until his back looked like raw meat. The soldiers forced a crown made of thorns onto his head and the blood ran down his face. Still Jesus didn’t say a word. It was barbarous. I wanted to do something, but he was surrounded by soldiers with swords and spears. He had to carry the cross bar through Jerusalem, but he never made a moan, even when he fell.”
“He fell?” Mary whispered through her tears.
“More than once,” her brother looked up. “Finally the soldiers forced a man in the crowd to carry the cross.”
“Why didn’t anyone help him?” Martha sobbed.
“No one could get close because of the soldiers,” Lazarus explained and fell silent.
“I have seen the crosses outside of Jerusalem,” Martha shuddered. “I cannot believe that Jesus was nailed there. Why didn’t God help him?”
Lazarus looked at her and shook his head. “I don’t understand either. Even while he was dying, Jesus asked God to forgive...” The man choked and repeated, “’Father forgive, for they don’t know what they are doing.’”
“It is wrong,” stated the woman. “If he could raise you to life, how could he let himself die.”
“I think that is what he did. Jesus allowed all this to happen. I don’t understand why,” her brother shook his head again. “At the end, he raised himself for one last breath and proclaimed, ‘It is accomplished.’ Jesus sounded…exalted and the words could have been a prayer the way he said them. It was not resignation or despair, but triumphant. It was strange.”
“Where is Jesus now?” Mary choked out her question.
“My friend Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate after Jesus died,” Lazarus turned to his sister. “He asked if he could bury Jesus in his own tomb. That is where we laid him.”
“I must take the ointment for his body,” suddenly energized Mary turned to leave the room.
“You will have to wait until after the Sabbath,” Martha told her, pointing to the setting sun. “You cannot go all the way to Jerusalem now.”
“Martha is right,” her brother nodded. “There is nothing more we can do tonight.”
Mary buried her face in her brother’s shoulder. Great sobs wrenched her body.
Martha stood in the middle of the room with her fists clenched and tears streaming down her face. “I don’t understand. This should not have happened.”
Lazarus wept with the women. Exhausted from their emotions, the siblings sat together in the dark room throughout the night.

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