They suddenly find themselves untethered. The gravity that had pulled them in and held them there, that gave them purpose and hope and a name — is gone.
Was it really just last night they celebrated the Passover together? Remembered God’s special favor for his chosen people together?
They were convinced — Jesus was sent from God. His own son, they were sure of it. Every miracle they witnessed, every quiet moment away from the crowds, every time Jesus reached his hands toward the untouchable, his evident, unquenchable love for humanity.
They were convinced all right. Counted themselves blessed to walk beside this Jesus, this prophet, this rabbi who not only knew the holy scripture inside out but actually lived them, every impossible commandment, every challenging word.
But now what? Their world is spinning. Nothing feels real. Were the last three years just a dream? How could they have seen the mysterious God so clearly through Jesus, how could a man so intimately acquainted with the almighty God be arrested like a common thief? How could a man so willing to heal and touch and teach be hated like a brutal murderer?
They mourn. They fear. Where is God now? Has he removed his favor from them, the chosen people? Did he fall silent yet again, angered by the way the world treated Jesus? Dismissal and disbelief, hatred and cruelty and glaring injustice. They watch as Jesus is taken in, arrested. Then ushered out and thrown to his knees as soldiers and guards attack him. They want to drown out the sound of the jeering crowd hurling insults and laughter, but if the crowds fall silent then they will hear the soldiers’ whips against bare flesh, tearing pieces of it as they pull up and away and swing for another lash.
Their own cries of grief over the treatment of Jesus are swallowed by the hungry crowd; maybe that’s what’s saving them, keeping them from the same fate. To anyone listening, they seemed to be a part of it, united in the chants to crucify him.
And even as they watch, Jesus, already covered and slick with his own blood, is forced to hoist that heavy cross onto his back, the rough rugged wood digging deep into his bones, his muscles weak and exposed and screaming in agony. Still, they hope.
They have seen his miracles. They’ve seen him command demons and the sea. They’ve seen the sky and even death bow down to him, some of them even saw his earthliness fall away to reveal his Godhood in all its glory.
They hope. Surely Jesus will put an end to this madness, this torture. Surely something huge is about to happen, and then everyone will see; then you’ll all believe.
They follow Jesus yet again, the dirt behind him stained with rivers of his blood, the cross dragging deep, ominous gouges in the road, stirring up dust until their eyes sting with betrayal and disbelief.
Anytime now, Jesus, they might have thought, hoped, prayed. Throw down that cross and rise, show them who you really are. Where is that power and might and authority they have seen firsthand? Show them, Jesus!
But they don’t know — that was never his plan.
The sound of the hammer against rusted metal jars their very bones. They flinch with every swing, maybe even cover their ears and avert their eyes. It still isn’t over, they think, it can’t be.
The soldiers raise the cross, Jesus now sufficiently nailed to the wooden planks. They drop the cross into the deep hole meant to steady it, and when it hits the earth, the momentum throws Jesus forward. But the nails do their job and his hands and feet are ripped further but not off. He is held there.
They pray for it to be over soon. Their hope is gone, trickling down that hill with Jesus’ blood. So they pray the end comes quickly now, ending this anguish.
They want to shake every single person in the crowd, grab their shoulders and shake until they are boneless. Do you realize what you’ve done? they want to shout. Why are you doing this? Get him down from there! Now!
But before they could muster up the courage, the earth shakes beneath their feet. First they think it’s their own bodies shivering in fear and grief. But the trembling grows stronger, and the shock in their neighbors’ eyes tells them it’s everywhere and underneath them all. Maybe this is it, Jesus’ big stand. Maybe the ground will open up and swallow whole the monsters who did this, who let this happen. An unearthly rumble splits the sky.
But it isn’t the earthquake roaring but Jesus, his final dying breath rolling over them like thunder.
“It is finished.”
Words everyone can’t help but hear, as if Jesus were right beside them all, speaking those words in their ear, their heart, their soul.
The sun drops out of the sky, the world turns black, the earth shakes still, the son of God dies.
Hope is lost.