The hill is quiet now. Not still but quiet. For the first time all day there is no noise. The clamor began to subside when the darkness -- that puzzling midday darkness -- fell. Like water douses a fire, the shadows doused the ridicule. No more taunts. No more jokes. No more jesting. And, in time, no more mockers. One by one the onlookers turned and began the descent.
That is, all the onlookers except you and me. We did not leave. We came to learn. And so we lingered in the semi-darkness and listened. We listened to the soldiers cursing, the passersby questioning and the women weeping. But most of all, we listened to the trio of dying men groaning. Hoarse, guttural, thirsty groans. They groaned with each rolling of the head and each pivot of the legs.
But as the minutes became hours, these groans diminished. The three seemed dead. Were it not for the belabored breathing, you would have thought they were.
Then He screamed. As if someone had yanked His hair, the back of His head slammed against the sign that bore His name, and He screamed. Like a dagger cuts the curtain, His scream cut the dark.
Standing as straight as the nails would permit, He cried as one calling for a lost friend, "Eloi!"
His voice was raspy, scratchy. Reflections of the torch flame danced in His wide eyes. "My God!"
Ignoring the volcano of erupting pain, He pushed upward until His shoulders were higher than His nailed hands. "Why have you forsaken Me?"
The soldiers stared. The weeping of the women ceased. One of the Pharisees sneered sarcastically, "He's calling Elijah."
No one laughed.
He'd shouted a question to the heavens, and you half expected heaven to shout one in return.
And apparently it did. For the face of Jesus softened, and an afternoon dawn broke as He spoke a final time. "It is finished. Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit."
As He gave His final breath, the earth gave a sudden stir. A rock rolled, and a soldier stumbled. Then, as suddenly as the silence was broken, the silence returned.
And now all is quiet. The mocking has ceased. There is no one to mock.
The soldiers are busy with the business of cleaning up the dead. Two men have come. Dressed well and meaning well, they are given the body of Jesus.
And we are left with the relics of his death.
Three nails in a bin.
Three cross-shaped shadows.
A braided crown with scarlet tips.
Bizarre, isn't it? The thought that this blood is not man's blood but God's?
Crazy, isn't it? To think tat these nails held your sins to a cross? Absurd, don't you agree? That a scoundrel's prayer was offered and answered? Or more absurd that another scoundrel offered no prayer at all?
Absurdities and ironies. The hill of Calvary is nothing if not both.
We would have scripted the moment differently. Ask us how a God should redeem His world, and we will show you! White horses, flashing swords. Evil flat on his back. God on His throne.
But God on a cross?
A split-lipped, puffy-eyed, blood-masked God on a cross?