It is time. As I wait for death to come, I remember how I got here. Of course, this was destined from my birth, but the last few days have been the culmination of three years of work. I think back over the last few days between spasms of pain and try to make these last moments meaningful.
I think back on my time with my friends. We had some very good times together. We laughed at each other’s jokes and at the foibles of the people around us. We traveled together, walking many miles and talking about family and politics and, of course, scripture. I had so much to teach and so little time! And when Peter was revealed to be Rock on which so much was to hinge, I knew not to question the choice though I quailed at what would be his fate. I gasp for breath and try to think of the goodness that awaits me when this pain ends.
Another gasp for air and I try to ease the pressure on my chest, which feels like it will soon explode. As I move, the wounds on my back open again and my raw nerves against the wood bring forth a long moan. I would scream, but there is not enough strength or air. I remember my last meal with my friends. I tried to model what I expected of them by washing the dust from their feet, as a servant would do. Peter – loving, impetuous, passionate Peter! – refused to let me near his feet. He simply did not understand the message I had been trying to teach him. “If you refuse to let me do this, you cannot share in my inheritance,” I said, and he jumped to his feet and exclaimed “Then wash all of me!” The whole dinner party erupted in laughter at the idea! A new pain shoots up my arm, but I cannot escape from the torture. Writhing against the rough wood, I reopen my wounds and blood runs free again.
Peter disappointed me, though. First, he fell asleep in the garden as I prayed for the strength for this ordeal. Then he denied me three times, as I said he would. I can see his face at times, when I can bear to open my eyes. The look on his face reveals the anguish in his heart. Dear Peter, how can I tell you? A wave of pain washes through my body, and I see Peter’s face blanch with my pain, then I am beyond thinking of Peter as weariness closes upon me.
If only the pain would stop! But it is relentless, and I cannot tell what part of my body hurts the most. I know this must happen, but even my body can take only so much, and I long for the release I know is coming. I thought the pummeling at the Sanhedrin was painful, but the scourging was so much worse. Words cannot describe the feeling as my skin was flailed open, with raw flesh exposed to the air. My screams meant nothing to the centurions, and they continued to flail my open wounds, driving them ever deeper. Even now, I can feel the whips on me as the centurions laugh. I open my eyes briefly and see my mother at my feet. What is she doing here? She can’t take this, watching me slowly die. Her moans mingle with my own, creating a kind of macabre song that we sing together, the last thing we will share on this earth. My eyes meet hers briefly, and through the dripping blood I gaze at her face, full of love, understanding, and anguish. I must do something for her; I cannot leave her alone. My beloved disciple stands next to her. I find the strength to speak. “Mother, here is your son. Son, take care of your mother.” I see my disciple put his arms around her, and again a wave of pain overcomes me, starting from the nails in my feet and radiating upwards and to my fingertips, obscuring all the world from me, and I fall into blackness.
The pain calls me back to the land of the living, and I moan once more. I want to move my arms! The nails hold me prisoner, and I feel the pressure in my chest growing. Every tendon, every fiber that knits my flesh together screams out for the relief that will never arrive. Knowing that I cannot escape this agony is almost as bad as the agony itself. Actually, I can escape, but then my life would be for naught. The sacrifice must be made. I must travel this dark tunnel.
My knees are probably the least painful part of my body. After the scourging and the betrayal of my own people – my own people! – I was made to carry the wood for my death. My back flayed open, wounds upon my arms and legs, the wood was placed upon my wounds and I was forced to drag it through the streets. Every step was exquisite agony, as the wood rubbed against the raw flesh. I could not scream, as every ounce of strength was needed just to put one foot in front of the other. Through the intensity of my effort, I could barely hear the crowd that surrounded me. Some people, the ones who loved me, were wailing. Others, the Pharisees and their followers, were jeering and spit upon me. I paid them little mind, as every ounce of my energy was focused only on the next step. My cross, slick with my body fluids, was difficult to hold and slid about on my raw shoulders and bumped against my thorny crown as I tried to complete this, my last journey. My blood dropped like the sins of man upon the dusty road. The rocks, rough on my feet, were even rougher on my knees each time I fell. It wasn’t long before the rocks cut my knees open. Finally, I was too weak to continue, and a stranger was asked to help me carry my load. This burden was mine to carry, but a stranger was pressed into service so that the sacrifice could be completed. I pray that he has no sleepless nights after viewing my horrific wounds from such close quarters!
Through it all, I could feel my mother in the crowd. I am anguished that she must go through this, but she won’t leave me, I know. She was close by as the nails were driven through my hands and feet, and I know that she felt each hammer blow. She has been with me from my childhood, and I know that she will be with me until the end. I wish it could be different, but the love she holds for me is a reflection of the love I hold for Man, and see what I do? Like a spear through her heart, she felt each nail. She will watch each breath I take, trying to breathe for me when I cannot. Such as now, when I retch but cannot clear my throat. My tongue is dry, my body is dry, the ache broken only by the heart-stopping pain that rips through me. My lungs are bursting, and my heart is not far behind. Gathering strength I call out “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?” Though I cannot hear them, I know the scribes are crying in wonder, recalling the psalm that I have started to recite. Maybe this cry will reach one last person, who will recall Scripture and the truth will be revealed to him.
Someone tries to give me a sponge, but my lips and mouth do not work anymore. I do not see the world anymore. My world is only the pain that envelopes me; I cannot see beyond it. I try to focus on the reward to come, but it is difficult. My heart is near its end. It cannot continue to push the blood through the pain, and I do not want it to. It is time.
“Into your hands I commend my spirit!” I put myself in my father’s hands, as the dark clouds gather over my head, and the brilliant light opens before me.