I will never forget that day as long as I live. No mother ever could. The memories of that experience are so vividly printed on my mind that there is no way I could erase them even if I wanted to.
Part of me screams that it was all an ugly nightmare. Another part of me screams just as loudly that it was all very real. It must have been real. It had to be real.
It was the day before the Feast of Passover was to begin. Jerusalem was swarming with people who had come to town for all of the festivities and to fulfill their annual obligation to their faith. I do not know if it was just the number of people but there was a strange mood in the air.
I had not slept much the night before and what rest I did have was not very good. My mind kept saying that this could not be happening to me. I cried and cried. I kept checking the window to see if daylight was coming. I wanted the night to end and at the same time I so dreaded the daylight.
Like so many things in life that you have no control over, daylight forced itself upon me — ready or not. I dressed quickly and left my home without any breakfast. Hungry I was not. Fearful I was.
It did not take me long to walk from my house to the Fortress Antonio where they held him. I wanted so much just to be with him in his final hours. Oh, it was so hard to deal with the fact that these were his final hours.
My mind kept racing back to so many incidents in his early childhood. What vivid memories I had of things that seemed like they just happened a few days before. Of all my children, he really was my favorite. He seemed to like being with me and doing things for me. He was always so obedient and cheerful.
What went wrong and when? To this day I have no earthly idea. I did not notice an overnight change. It happened so gradually that none of the family nor any of his close friends even recognized what was going on until it was too late to really help him.
Oh, the hours I have spent talking to him. Often I would go to the synagogue to seek the help of the rabbis. Their advice sounded good but never seemed to make any difference. Nothing seemed to make any difference. It was almost like some kind of disease had a hold of him. No matter how many promises he made, he just kept on stealing.
There I was standing outside of his jail wanting to see him, wanting to spend the last hours with him, wanting to just hold him in my arms, wanting the hurt in my heart to stop, wanting this whole nightmare to go away.
Can you believe that the guards at the entrance would not let me in? I kept pleading and begging but they would pay no attention to me. Sometimes they would look over at me and almost sneer as if they were getting some kind of perverted joy out of causing me pain.
Perhaps that waiting outside the fortress was some of the worst of this whole ordeal. I knew I was only a few yards away from my child and yet I could not see him, I could not speak to him, I could not hold him in my arms. Oh, how it hurt. No mother should have to experience that kind of pain.
It was some time between eleven and eleven-thirty that morning when I finally got to see my son. The circumstances were not how I had wanted them. There was a great crowd outside of the fortress that day. There were many rabbis and scribes and soldiers that came out of the fort with my son. At the time it was a puzzle to me.
Two other prisoners were being executed along with my son that day. I remember wondering which of the women in the crowd were their mothers. Did they have the same feelings I had? How I wanted to cry with them! Only their mothers could understand how I was feeling at that moment.
I had seen other prisoners led to their crucifixion before but never had so many of the details jumped out at me as they did that day when I saw my son, my precious child. There was such fear in his eyes.
He looked like he had not eaten well for some time. His skin color was poor. He looked as if it had been weeks since he had a bath. He used to pride himself on his personal hygiene.
The soldiers had tied his hands together and over his right shoulder had been placed the “tree.” This was the crosspiece only; the upright part of the cross was always left standing at the place of execution and was used many times. The crosspiece was of cypress, about three inches by five inches, and about six feet long. I knew it weighed about thirty pounds but it looked so much heavier on my son’s shoulders.
The column of soldiers and prisoners were led by the centurion. I can still hear so clearly his call for the column to march: “Forward, March!” A few of the high priests moved aside. One of the prisoners had obviously been severely beaten and was having great difficulty carrying his own cross. In fact he stumbled and fell a couple of times.
The road from the fortress to Golgotha was almost one thousand paces — about three thousand feet. The first part of the march was along a narrow road, hardly more than twelve feet wide, up a slight incline, then sharply down into the valley below. My son had walked that road hundreds of times as he was growing up. But he had never walked it like he was walking today. In fact, he would never walk that road again. It was his last walk anywhere.
The parade that day moved slower than usual because the prisoner who had been beaten so severely was staggering and stumbling and was able to move at only a snail’s pace. The legionnaires had to keep moving the crowd back, on occasions even using their spears. The soldiers who led on the horses shouted continuously for the people to make way for the soldiers of Rome.
At the bottom of the hill the column turned to the left. This was at the edge of the big market in Jerusalem. It was at this point that the procession came to a halt. One of the prisoners had fallen flat on his face and the crossbeam still rested on his shoulders and back. A farmer, a black-skinned man — someone told me later he was of Cyrene — was made to carry the prisoner’s cross the final steps to the place of crucifixion. Mercifully, the column moved that last part of the journey a little faster.
Can you imagine what I felt as I watched my son nailed to a cross? I screamed. Oh, how I screamed. That was my son. Yes, he was a robber. Yes, he was guilty. Yes, he deserved to be punished, but not that way. That was my son on that cross.
The most horrible sound of all was the sound of the crossbeam, with my son nailed on it, being dropped onto the upright beam. That sound was repeated twice. Just talking about it makes cold chills run up and down my spine.
When the crossbeam was set firmly, the executioner reached up and set the board which listed my son’s name and his crime. Then the executioner knelt before the cross. Two soldiers hurried to help, and each one took hold of a leg at the calf. The ritual was to nail the right foot over the left, and this was probably the most difficult part of the work. If the feet were pulled downward, and nailed close to the foot of the cross, the prisoner always died quickly.
That was what I had prayed for, a quick death, but it was not to be. Over the years, the Romans learned to push the feet upward on the cross, so that the condemned man could lean on the nails and stretch himself upward, thus taking longer to die.
It is hard to remember what all transpired after that incident. Surely I must have blocked out of my mind all the screams, bad language, the taunts of the soldiers.
What I do remember vividly was one of the last things my son said. For some reason I can still hear it so clearly. It was as if everything had gone completely silent, that no one was saying a word.
I remember that my son moved his head toward the prisoner in the middle and spoke to Him slowly and deliberately. It had been years since I had heard him speak like that. I knew that he was being very thoughtful and sincere.
My son called the prisoner in the middle by name: “Jesus.” That was such a common name. But what startled me was what else he asked: “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
I remember thinking, “What kingdom? What in this world is my son saying? Surely he must be out of his mind with pain.”
The one named “Jesus” made some kind of reply to my son but I really didn’t hear what He said. I was thinking about what my son had just spoken.
My son, my precious child, died that day. What a day that was. No mother should ever have to live through such a day as that. That terrible day would truly be horrifying if things had not turned out differently than what I understood them to be on that day outside Jerusalem. Let me explain what I mean.
It must have been some six or eight months later that a man came to visit me one day. His name was Barnabas. He told me that he had been thinking about my son for many days and he wanted to find his family and talk to them. He asked about the city and learned of where I lived and he came to visit me. I have never had a visit from anyone that so turned my world upside down.
He explained to me that he was a follower of the prisoner named Jesus. He told me of many of the things this Jesus had taught. But the most remarkable thing he told about was that the man who had died next to my son was now alive again. This man, Barnabas, had seen Him and talked with Him. He knew what he was talking about.
The reason he wanted to talk with me was that he wanted me to know that I could see my son again one day. Can you imagine how my heart leaped within me when he told me of such a possibility.
He inquired about my memory concerning the conversation between my son and Jesus on the cross. I explained that I had not heard what the prisoner named Jesus had said. He told me that after my son had made his request to be remembered in the coming of Jesus’ kingdom, that Jesus had said to my son: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Barnabas explained to me what Jesus meant by those words. That day my precious child — robber that he was — was going to be with this Jesus in His kingdom. I wanted to shout. I wanted to cry. I wanted to believe that all this could be true.
I begged Barnabas to tell me more. He talked to me for several hours, explaining about this man Jesus. Finally, he asked me if I did not want to place my personal faith in Jesus as my Savior. He explained that if I did, in the life to come, I would be reunited with my son and Jesus.
I did not have to think about it long. I almost shouted “Yes.” Admittedly, I now know more about that decision than I did then. Now, I am more excited about Jesus than I was then.
I now know that nothing will be able to eternally separate me from my family because my son, my entire family and I have now placed our faith in Jesus Christ.